Death and Social Media

With the widespread popularity of social networking sites around the world, it is now very common for individuals to maintain online profiles on various social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn and Google+.

Facebook has recently introduced a new feature to enhance their users’ experience on the site by implementing a Timeline feature for users’ profiles. Timeline will feature your life’s stories from your most recent activity all the way back to your birth. The idea is to make viewing a person’s profile richer by including more photos and highlighting milestones displayed in a chronological fashion.

Our online accounts no longer serve as our mere alter egos in cyberspace. These days, Facebook accounts have become an extension of our lives. Your Facebook serves as an indelible record of your existence, drunken photos and silly statuses included. With Timeline, users are able to retrospectively fill in information and photos from their birth onwards. You can also add important life updates such as your graduation, engagement, moving to a new house, getting a new pet, the birth of your child and even the loss of a loved one.

What happens to your online account when you die? What happens to your Facebook profile when you are no longer around to update it?

Charlie Harper Dead Facebook Timeline(Click here to see Charlie Harper’s full Facebook Timeline…)

Clearly the photo above is a parody of a Facebook account belonging to Two and a Half Men’s Charlie Harper. He lived a life of excess filled with drunken debauchery and what appeared to be little regard for other people’s feelings, all the while providing hilarious comic quips about life. For someone like Charlie who died a sudden and tragic death, what would happen to his account?

Since Facebook launched in 2004, over 300 million users have passed away. Losing a friend or family member is painful enough (although maybe not for Charlie’s former conquests…), but imagine the extra, unnecessary jabs when Facebook suggests that you reconnect with that person’s profile or the face recognition system sends you requests to tag the deceased person’s photo.

I have looked at the privacy policy regarding a deceased person’s online profile on four of the largest social networking sites around the world.

Facebook

Facebook created a specialised policy for deceased users by not only agreeing to let a family member take control of the account but also providing an option so turn someone’s account into a memorial.

By doing so, Facebook is allowing friends and family of the deceased to preserve the user’s online identity. People are free to view the page, read about the person’s life and leave posts on the wall as a way of remembering them.

In an age when the idea of completely disappearing is unthinkable, it is a welcome relief to realise that a trace of our existence will linger online. But the last thing that we want are constant reminders about someone’s disappearance. As such, when Facebook converts an account into a memorial, the profile automatically becomes private and only accessible to confirmed friends. The person’s contact information is removed and the log in facility for the account is disabled.

To memorialise an account, family or friends must fill out Facebook’s special contact form and include proof of death such as a link to an onituary or a news article.In order to do this, 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).

However, in the event that your account has been memorialised wrongfully, you can contact Facebook here to reactivate your account, provided that you can prove your identity.

Twitter

For deceased Twitter users, family members can contact Twitter through this link. The user’s account will be closed upon their death but family members will be offered the chance to recover and archive any publicly available tweets from the account.

Google+

Currently Google+ does not have a policy outlined in their ‘Help’ section. However, they do have a policy in place that covers everything tied into the same Google account. Therefore the same procedure probably applies to a Google+ profile.

All posts will remain online unless someone asks Google to take them down. If you don’t want them to remain, or if you need access to the person’s Gmail account for whatever reason, you must follow the steps outlined in Google’s Help section. You must be a lawful representative of the deceased (which means friends are out) and be able to provide proof of that authority. You must also include proof of death and a full e-mail header from the person in question to show that the person knew and was in contact with you.

After that, Google needs 30 days to process the documents, but notes that a “valid third party court order or other appropriate legal process” will get you access sooner.

Google has much stricter guidelines over who can access the the deceased’s account since the access extends not only to their social networking profile but also the their email, contacts and any other account they may have.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn users probably post less information regarding their personal lives and the level of interaction between the users are unlikely to be as involved as they are on Facebook.

Nonetheless, there is also a process whereby a colleague, classmate or a connection can notify LinkedIn’s Customer Service team here in the event of a user’s demise. LinkedIn will then remove the profile from their site.

**Summary of Links:

Facebook Help Centre: http://www.facebook.com/help/?page=185698814812082

LinkedIn Verification of Death Form: https://help.linkedin.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/2842

Twitter Help Centre: https://support.twitter.com/articles/87894-how-to-contact-twitter-about-a-deceased-user

Gmail Help Centre: https://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=14300

About Maebellyne Ventura

Maebellyne Ventura is a digital marketing professional writing about social media practices. She is also a founder of the online start-up Clever Biscuit. Follow her on Twitter @Maebellyne
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