Managing Your Social Media Afterlife

BlogHer Original Post

You never go far without access to your Twitter stream. Facebook is like a second religion to you. Your blog is essentially your baby. Whether you're online for business building, furthering your career, or personal endeavors, social media is a core activity in your daily life. For many it's even more entwined with their days than showering or brushing their teeth. So... what happens to your online life when you die?

This is more than just having your social networking cease at the drop of the hat. It comes down to who has access to what and how you would want things handled. I don't know about you but while I have the care of my cats written into my will, at the time I had it done I never even considered the state of my online affairs. Now that I own a business, I really need to create a some sort of manual or protocol if something were to happen to me. Sure I have business systems in place, but my next of kin wouldn't have a clue where to start. Something as simple as a minor accident or illness needs to be addressed via some sort of business manual. (More on the details of what goes into such a thing another time.)

I was reading an article in Time magazine about "Managing Your Online Afterlife" (a link to the main article which I can't find) and it really got me thinking, what DOES happen to all this stuff? In fact last year a colleague of mine died suddenly. No one even knew for weeks. Yet months and months after her death all her online materials were going strong. It was sort of eerie if you ask me.

Now, I know with all of it it likely comes down to the terms of service of each online account. I can almost hear my editor Denise saying "Did you read the Terms of Service?!?" Most people don't, and of course even if you did, if you die, you're not around to have a say in the matter!

Of course we're not just talking about only elderly issues here. People of all ages die every day. In fact the article I read was informed by a grieving mother who turned to Facebook when her teen daughter died. So, what happens to your accounts and who can get access to them when you die? Time magazine does have a set of articles on "Tools for Managing Your Online Life After Death" which has some brief snippets as it relates to e-mail (webmail), social networking, photo sharing, and passwords. Let's take them one by one and hit the biggies.

E-mail
According to the Time article above, Hotmail will give someone access to your account only after providing a certificate of death and also proving they have power of attorney for your matters. Gmail has similar requirements to gain access to the deceased person's email: proof of death and proof that you are the lawful representative of the deceased. I had poor luck getting exact detail from Yahoo's site other than this answer in Yahoo Answers. eHow has some good tips in general on how to access a deceased person's email.

Social Networking
This at least is a little more straightforward. Facebook will not honor requests to close the account completely. Instead they say:

Please report this information here so that we can memorialize this person’s account. Memorializing the account removes certain more sensitive information like status updates and restricts profile access to confirmed friends only. Please note that in order to protect the privacy of the deceased user, we cannot provide login information for the account to anyone. We do honor requests from close family members to close the account completely.

The Time magazine article said nothing about Twitter. I searched for some time and came up empty on an "official" answer. If you know - post the link in the comments below. I did find one answer on what to do with dead person's account on Twitter from Get Satisfaction. 

MySpace is similar to Facebook in that you need to provide proof of death but the account is not deleted, only objectionable content is removed.

LinkedIn offers a procedure for removing the profile of a deceased connection.

Photo Sharing
Flickr keeps accounts up and open to the public, but again proof of death may assist you in adjusting more settings. What I was able to find on the help forum was this:

Flickr works with the Yahoo! Legal Compliance team to resolve these types of situations. You'll need to send them a copy of the death certificate in order to have the Flickr account closed. Please include the URL and screen name of his account. Compliance can be reached at 408-349-3687.

Sounds similar to the other courses of action discussed this far.

Passwords
Of course survivors with the user accounts and passwords are in a much more powerful position with a lot less red tape.  Companies like Legacy Locker hands over the keys to your online life after you die. It is one way you could streamline things.

The shame in all this is that there really isn't much of a standard procedure in the industry of what to do with someone's online accounts after death. The best protection you can have is to have a clear plan and documentation in place for your digital assets much like you do for your tangible assets.  Web 2.0 is so much a part of our lives and businesses that it truly warrants consideration in business and estate planning.

Some good resources:

Anyone have any stories, tips, or additional resources on this topic?  Please share in the comments... A valuable service to all since there was truly very little in the form of consolidated information on the web for this topic.


Paula Gregorowicz, owner of The Paula G. Company, offers life and business coaching for women to help you gain the clarity, confidence, and courage you need to succeed on your own terms. Get the free eCourse "5 Steps to Move from Fear to Freedom" at her website

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