Social Media and Death – The Immortality of Cyberspace
The explosive phenomenon of social media allows the broadcast of one’s life to friends and family all around the world. After death, this on-line presence survives, haunting cyberspace with neglected status updates, tweets and dated blogs.
Such immortality can have distressing consequences. Profiles and accounts created on social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn remain active as painful memorials, whilst blogging posts mysteriously disappear, untraceable by family and friends desperate to read last posts. Delayed notice of death to on-line friends and family may cause missed opportunities to attend memorial services and to pay last respects.
Given the closely guarded nature of passwords and access codes to social media accounts, friends and family often struggle to immediately address a person’s death on-line. Being unable to access these accounts in a timely manner, or, indeed at all, is a growing area of concern.
There is currently no law in Canada which gives an executor the right to access, control or terminate a deceased person’s social media accounts. Accordingly, the management of social media accounts following the death of an account holder are subject to the service provider policy. These policies tend to be onerous and inconsistent, with each provider attempting to balance the wishes of devastated friends and family with the protection of the deceased account holder’s privacy.
Below are some of the more popular social media service provider post mortem policies.
Facebook has a specialized policy for deceased users which allows a family member control of the account. Facebook will also allow the account to be turned into a memorial, so that the person’s on-line identity is preserved. People may access the page, read about the deceased, and leave posts on the Wall in remembrance. However, in order not be constantly reminded about someone’s disappearance, when Facebook converts an account into a memorial, the deceased no longer pops up in Facebook’s friend suggestions. Contact information is removed, and no one can log into the account in the future.
The deceased’s profile also automatically becomes private to everyone but confirmed friends. This prevents vandals from wrecking the page. In order to utilize Facebook’s policy, family or friends must fill out Facebook’s special contact form and include proof of death (usually a link to an obituary or a news article). Unlike other social networks, Facebook will allow nonfamily to perform this task, which is helpful in a situation where the deceased user’s friends are more internet-savvy than the family.
For a MySpace profile, the next of kin must contact MySpace via e-mail with proof of death and the user’s MySpace ID number (not username). Unlike the Facebook policy allowing access to the account, MySpace policy states: “Unfortunately, we can’t let you access, edit, or delete any of the content or settings on the user’s profile yourself, but we’ll be sure to review and remove any content you find objectionable.”
Therefore, whoever shows proof of death will not be able to access or edit the profile, and it will be up to MySpace to manage the contents of the account.
LinkedIn, a social network for professionals, will, upon its receipt of a completed LinkedIn Death Verification Form, remove the profile of a deceased account holder. Thereafter, the deceased’s details are no longer visible to anyone. Anyone can submit the necessary form – it need not be a family member or personal representative.
BLOGGER, GMAIL, BUZZ, AND ANYTHING ELSE TIED TO A GOOGLE ACCOUNT
All of Google’s services are tied into the same Google account. When a user dies, the administration of that person’s account is handled centrally and concerned parties are only required to go through prescribed steps once in order to gain access to a gmail account, Buzz or blog.
Google will not delete a blog unless a request for the deletion is made. Therefore, without any intervention, a friend or family member’s posts will remain on-line indefinitely.
In order to access a deceased person’s Gmail account, the legal representative of the deceased person must contact Google with proof of death and verification of the applicant’s status as a personal representative. Google also requires the full e-mail header from the deceased to show that the person knew and was in contact with the personal representative.
After that, Google will take 30 days to process the documents, but notes that a “valid third party court order or other appropriate legal process” will allow access sooner.
Google does not, however, guarantee that access to an account will be granted, and will only do so upon consideration of the application.
Twitter will act on the instructions of the deceased’s personal representative or a verified immediate family member to deactivate an account and will, upon request, also provide a permanent back up of the deceased’s public tweets. Proof of death is required as well as proof of the applicant’s relationship to the deceased.
Whilst Twitter will deactivate an account, it will not provide the login account information to the deceased’s representative.
MANAGING YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS AFTER DEATH
You can ease post mortem management of your social media accounts for your friends and family by taking the following steps.
MAKE A LIST OF ACCOUNTS AND PASSWORDS
Keep a hard copy list of each account and the access information, such as passwords and user names. Whilst we are exhorted never to record in writing our access passwords, failure to do so in some secure manner will cause delay and frustration following death.
The access information can be kept together with important personal documents such as a will in a safety deposit box, or in a vault at your lawyer’s office. An alternative would be to give this information to your lawyer with instructions about who should receive this information upon your death.
A further option is to engage a service provider such as Legacy Locker or Entrusted, which will digitally store access information on your behalf and will only release this to a preauthorized person upon your death.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT PERSON TO DEAL WITH THE ACCOUNT
Identify an appropriate person to deal with the on-line accounts. In our wills, we appoint an executor to deal with the physical assets of our estate. However, this person may not be the best choice to carry out your instructions in respect of the management of social media accounts. The executor appointed may not be computer literate, or you may not wish for your executor to have access to some of the content held in your accounts.
Provide instructions as to your wishes for dealing with your on-line accounts. For example, you may want to have your Facebook status update reflect a particular message notifying followers of your death. Furthermore, you may not want some information held in the accounts, such as photographs or videos, to be deleted.
We hope that you find the above of assistance. Please contact our offices to speak to any of our computer savvy lawyers if you have questions.
This article is informational only. For advice on your specific situation, we would be pleased to assist.