According to Digital Beyond approximately 972,000 U.S.-based Facebook users will die in 2016. After someone dies, does their social media go on to live forever?
We sought to answer this question by tackling a few questions: Who can handle your accounts if you aren’t there to claim them? Who determines the fate of someone’s online legacy?
The Process By Platform
First thing’s first: You own your accounts. Each social media platform has its own unique policies for account management and deactivation in the absence of a user; even so, in many cases you do have the ability to set rules that will govern the future of your account in your absence.
We have researched and documented below the process for majority platforms.
Twitter will deactivate your account automatically after 6 months of idleness. If you don’t sign in within 30 days thereafter, your account gets deleted permanently. If you would like to act on behalf of a deceased or missing person you will need to verify, by way of government-issued ID, your family membership or ownership over that portion of their estate. To actually deactivate they require the death certificate, written explanation of the situation for the username in question, and current address information.
To shut down an account a family members or close friends would need to go to LinkedIn with info about the member including their relationship to him or her, information about the death and obituary, and even recent employment information. Until and unless a profile is actively deleted after the process above, LinkedIn will not take the initiative and that profile would remain online and stagnant unless someone manipulates it while logged in.
Google – Google+
Google will automatically indefinitely suspend any account that is idle more than 9 months, regardless of whether the accountholder is alive or not. Google accounts can’t be transferred to new ownership outright, but they are able to provide google account contents to authorized parties if those parties provide an item of the deceased’s valid identification and a copy of the death certificate.
In 2013 Google rolled out a third option for handling accounts: Current living users can set up inactive account manager to help plan in advance to determine the fate of the user’s Google digital assets. You can decide how long your account will last thereafter, who would be able to manipulate it, and even dictate how your current inbox and documents are handled.
Like LinkedIn, Instagram requires that an authorized party contact the company to work with them by email through the process. They use a form like what we will mention below that Facebook employs to report the death with proof. The authorized party will have the option to either fully delete that account or memorialize it.
Unless and until Facebook is notified of a death, accounts remain active indefinitely and retain set privacy settings. In the case that Facebook is notified of someone’s passing there are a couple of different options for those related to the deceased.
The first option is for you, the user, to designate a legacy proxy in advance in case you pass away. In this situation you can also write a custom message to tell that person how you’d like your account handled thereafter.Once Facebook is notified of your passing they will initiate the shift in ownership.
The second option is for you to designate in advance whether you’d like your account deleted or memorialized following notification to Facebook of your passing.
The third scenario would be for a family member to request to dictate the future of the account. Facebook can either delete the account altogether, permanently, or it can convert the page into a Remembering page (“In Memorium”). In this latter case, Facebook can give the family member(s) the ability to control the profile and leave it as a venue to reflect on the former user’s life and death. Those individuals will not have access to the late family member’s private messages, but they’ll be able to manage the page’s visibility and content going forward.
There are resources Like Legacy Locker and Unobliterate available that would give specific people access to your accounts. They’d be privy to a secure password and information vault you would have managed ahead of time.
If you’re really serious about the protection of your digital assets you can certainly designate the future of those much more formally by way of a will; however, in most areas this is still an extremely gray area and even a legal document such as this might not override certain presets, for instance.
We strongly recommend that you familiarize yourself with the privacy options available for your accounts across these platforms, not just for “someday” and “just in case”, but to protect your identity and sensitive information.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us to learn more about how you can educate yourself and others on the issues of privacy and cyber security.