As uncomfortable as this topic may be, it is worth being well informed about what will happen to your online life when your body goes offline forever. It’s like the song goes, “flying high in April, shot down in May”. That’s life. One day everything – including your heart- is ticking along, and then one day…it isn’t.
It would be hard to find anyone living a modern life who has never indulged in some kind of social media. From Pinterest and Twitter to LinkedIn and Facebook along every other imaginable platform, the world is clicking away, sharing bits and pieces of their lives. But what happens to social media accounts when those lives come to an end?
You may have already experienced the oddly discombobulating moment of being reminded to wish someone a happy birthday when you know, full well, that the only candles being blown for them on that day are in memorial. Or perhaps you have received an unexpected ‘memory flashback’ and felt the deep pang of sadness and loss.
Alas, time passes, and so do we.
In the time Facebook has existed until now, more than 30 million of its members have passed away. It has only been in the last few years that online networking has addressed the issue facing loved ones of what to do about those now silent loved ones and their online presence.
If a partner or a close friend has been given, or has access to, passwords, then everything is fine. Of course, having total access to everything within the account also means having access to private messages and photos. Realistically, even for the dead, this may not be ideal.
Without the passwords, however, the sites remain open to the public to comment, but nothing more. This can lead to awkward, and sometimes painful, moments like unknowing Facebook friends sending greetings and finding out the super dooper hard way that changes have occurred.
“Happy Birthday Jon, haven’t heard from you for a while, hope all is great with you and that you don’t eat all the cake yourself, you great big, fat, bastard, love Sam”
“Hi Sam, it’s Mary, Jon’s wife, Jon died of a cake induced heart attack 8 months ago”.
As a response, the digital world has had to come up with some real-world solutions.
Facebook, for example, has three options.
The Legacy Contact.
While you are alive- obviously- you can go into ‘General settings’, then ‘privacy and settings’, then ‘memorialised account’, find the ‘legacy contact’ then ‘add friend’. You can nominate someone to take over your account, in effect, after you have passed away. The person you nominate will have access to everything in your account, the same as you. They can send messages, add friends, change and add pictures and operate the account exactly the way you do. If, for some reason, you wish to change the nominee, you can do that as many times as you want. This is the same as giving your password to someone, with the knowledge that you can do some ‘tidying up’ if you feel the need.
A memorialised account.
This account will have the word ‘Remembering’ added in front of your name in your public facing profile. This account can be controlled by your legacy contact, but cannot be logged into by anyone else. If no legacy contact was nominated, a family member can apply to Facebook to turn your account into a ‘memorialised’ account and must provide proof, such as a death certificate and proof of their relationship with you, but they cannot log into your account and change anything. Facebook will add the word ‘Remembering’ and from there, in effect, the page is dormant although, if your privacy settings allow it, others can write message onto the page wall.
If you decide that you would like your Facebook account to leave the planet when you do, you can also set that up. Simply go into settings, click on ‘memorialising account’ and select ‘request that your account be deleted after you pass away’ then ‘delete after death’. Someone who loves you will need to inform Facebook that this you are no longer alive and provide proof including a Death certificate.
For Instagram and Twitter, a family member or nominated person will have to contact the platforms via email and provide proof such as your ID, their ID and your Death certificate in order to make any changes. Instagram will keep your account up, but it will be ‘memorialised’ in the same way Facebook is with the word ‘remembering’ and no access will be granted to make any other changes to the account. Twitter will delete an account 30 days after the notification of a death and deactivation.
There is currently no way to set up a legacy contact for these corners of social media, although this may change as time goes by.
With Gmail, there is actually an option for the account to be accessed by a nominated ‘Inactive Account Manger’ which will allow your nominee access to your emails after a set period of inactivity. Remember, they will have full access to all of your emails. Including the emails confirming all those McDonalds delivery orders. You can also choose to have your files deleted after a set amount of inactivity, say 6 months of no logging in, and the account is turned off.
Pinterest will also keep your account online, however no changes can be made to your account once they know you have passed on, and not only do they require your ID, your living representatives ID, and your death certificate, they also want a copy of obituaries as proof of your passing. Because you never know who might want to steal your favourite pancake pictures. Right?
Apple handles things a little differently. Upon notification by a family member or authorised person that you have drawn your last breath, Apple do not muck around.
Having received the sad news, along with all the documentation required as proof, the same as all the others, your iCloud and iTunes accounts will simply cease to exist. Poof. Gone. Terminated, which all sounds a bit final. From a practical standpoint, they probably figure you won’t be needing your favourite workout playlist anymore but, dang. Apple accounts live with you, and, they die with you. The ultimate digital/real world symbiosis.
So, if you want to have a say in what will happen to you when that day comes, check into the details of all your social media platforms and email accounts soon and take action. That way you can rest easy knowing you prepared for your online afterlife as well as your life offline.