What happens to our social media selves when we die?

Ghosted

17th November 2017

What would we do without the internet? Gone are the days of reading a newspaper: now, the BBC sends notifications straight to your phone, your groceries are delivered straight to your door, even our banking is processed online. It’s no wonder our virtual presence is just as active as our physical. Social media platforms are growing and around a third of the world’s population has a Facebook profile. However, when setting up these Facebook profiles did anyone think of it as an online autobiography? Did anyone consider the fact that our online profile will actually live on years after we’ve passed? Probably not. Death is a taboo subject; we don’t want to think about what’s going to happen when we die. To many of us born into the technological generation, who started our social media profiles at the age of 13, death is the last thing on our minds. However, studies carried out by The Loop show that if current trends remain the same, Facebook will become a virtual graveyard by 2065 with the number of dead members outweighing the living.

So when should we start erasing our virtual presence? Do we even want to? Planning online deaths has become more common – authorities in the US and UK both agree that we should leave plans for our digital assets to make our passing easier for loved ones. This doesn’t necessarily mean you must delete all your social media profiles (unless of course you want to) but with over 8,000 Facebook users passing away every day, there are actually measures in place that will memorialise your online presence. Whatever your choice, it’s a manual process:

Facebook

Facebook offers to turn the user’s page into a memorial so although the profile will not be active, friends will be able to post messages on your page and tag you in photos. You will not be able to log in to the account or send a friend request. You can also add a legacy contact fairly easily on your Facebook settings. This person will effectively be your page manager after your pass away.  Or, your next of kin will be required to fill in a form on Facebook and attach a copy of a death certificate or obituary. After this, they will have the option to permanently delete the profile or memorialise it.

Twitter

The site offers to work with an authorised person or family member to deactivate the account. Again, they must have a copy of your ID and a death certificate.

Instagram

You can report an account of a person passed away, or immediate family members can request for the account to be memorialised – locking the account and removing it from the explorer – or deleted. Again, a copy of a death certificate must be provided.

Snapchat

At the moment there are no current plans in place. However when Snapchat accounts are inactive for a period of time they are deleted. Next of kin can also request the account to be deleted by contacting Snapchat.

LinkedIn

Your profile can be closed and removed. As long as someone is in possession of a death certificate, someone can fill out a form to have the account deleted.

Tumblr

You must contact the help desk who will delete at the request of a next of kin.

Pinterest

Accounts can be deleted with login details. If not, then next of kin can email the help desk with the account details, a death certificate and an ID in order to request deletion of the account.

Why keep your social media presence?

For families who are grieving, this can be entirely overwhelming and certainly not at the forefront of our minds. Nearly three quarters of people have considered their digital heir but only 14% of the UK population have shared social media passwords with their loved ones to access after their death, according to a study by C.P.J Funeral Directors. To help, the Digital Legacy Association offers free social media will templates, they are not legally binding but are a helpful in getting your preferences laid out.

Nearly 75% of people place an importance on being able to view a loved one’s social media profile after their death, the Digital Legacy Association says.

James Norris from social media legacy company Dead Social and the Digital Legacy Association thinks it’s important to control what happens to our social media when we die. He tells The Overtake: “We’re spending much more of our lives online, our human interactions with our loved ones, our communications, uploading photos. So because we spend so much on time online it’s important to bring your digital life to a managed ending.”

How?

There are now services who offer help and advice to help plan your death, from your funeral to Facebook. Dead Social is one of these organisations. The company helps with digital legacy and digital end of life planning. Norris says it offers an “impersonal” free service to their users who will create profiles and can even schedule messages to your loved ones from beyond the grave. Norris says one woman contacted him after her husband, who used the service, had died.

“She couldn’t see the value when her husband was dying and creating his profile and messages on Dead Social, but after his death she can see why,” he says.

With the digital age still alive and kicking, it’s no wonder post-death social media is such a grey area, as it’s not really happened yet.  Taking it a step further than memorialising your social media presence is a website called Eternime. The startup based in the US allows you to create a virtual avatar of yourself. You input details about yourself and then when you die, your family and friends will be able to effectively video call you from the dead.

The site is adopting famous transhumanist Martine Rothblatt’s motto “death is optional”. Transhumanism is a movement that believes in post-human beings, that technology could overcome human limitations. But many people feel that an app where you can effectively continue a relationship with someone who has passed away could manipulate emotions and interfere with the grieving process.

eternime
Image: Eternime

Obviously, it is up to each individual how to deal with their online presence when they pass and, seeing as it’s still a fairly new phenomenon, who knows how it could change in the years to come? Maybe services like Eternime will become the norm and our virtual presence will be living long after our physical selves have gone.

But for now, the Digital Legacy Association offers endless advice and help with planning your social media death, perhaps a more palatable option than millions of virtual dead people floating around in the cloud.

17th November 2017