What happens to your social media accounts after you die?
Ten years ago, this would have seemed like a silly question. After all, in 2007, the average person’s online presence consisted of a blinged-out Myspace page, an AOL account overflowing with spam, and maybe a blog that hadn’t been updated in months.
These days, though, social media is a meaningful part of life — and death. Who owns all those photos you took? Who can see (and use) your personal information? Who should be in charge of notifying your online contacts that you’ve passed on, and how should they do it?
While society is just beginning to grapple with the complexities of an online afterlife, most of the major social networks already have some plans in place.
Facebook allows users to set a “legacy contact,” someone who can administer parts of your account after you’re gone. According to Facebook, a legacy contact can write notes on your page, change your photos and respond to friend requests. They can’t, however, read your private messages.
You can also set your Facebook page to vanish once the company receives official word of your death.
Instagram allows a deceased person’s loved ones to “memorialize” their account, a status that lets other users know that the account owner is no longer around. Immediate family members can also request that the account be deleted entirely.
Twitter does not offer a legacy contact or a memorialization feature. But a “verified immediate family member of the deceased” can delete your account if that person can provide your death certificate and other official documents, the New York Times reported.
In special cases, Twitter will suspend the account of a person who has become permanently incapacitated, and may consider removing “imagery” of a deceased person, based on “public interest factors such as the newsworthiness of the content,” according to the Times.
You can designate up to 10 people to be the executors of your account once you die, or when your account becomes inactive via its inactive account manager tool. This slightly creepy but useful feature operates like a “dead man’s switch:” You set a certain time interval between Google sign-ins. If you don’t sign in for, say, 6 months, Google sends a prewritten email from you to your chosen contact, in which you can explain what you want to happen with your digital stuff.
Unlike many other online networks, you can choose to give your Google executors full access to your account, including personal messages and data. But you don’t have to.
Snapchat, Tumblr and LinkedIn
None of these sites offer pre-death planning, but next-of-kin can take action, according to the Times.
Both Tumblr and Snapchat will remove the account of a deceased person if a family member makes a direct request.
LinkedIn allows a verified executor to make an account removal request online.
Many other major online companies will work with survivors of a deceased person.
Contact AOL to change the billing name on an account, or close it.
Mail physical documents to Yahoo to begin the process of deleting a deceased person’s account.
Read this Time Magazine article for more information about contacting Microsoft regarding a deceased user.
While no one looks forward to the day when they might need this information, at least most companies try to make the process as painless as possible. The key is to plan ahead whenever you can.