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What Happens to your Social Media Account When you Die?

By Vijoy M. Alexander

We are in a digital world and more and more people are joining the bandwagon on a daily basis. We keep active in Social Media to express your presence, feelings, grievances and happy moments in life. We fill our accounts with more and more personal information, like Photogrpahs, Videos which might be good for the time being but become hazardous once you loose control over it.

According to Forrester Research, 55.6 million adults in the United States have a social networking account with a site like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter or Google.  In Asian countries, the number is doubling.

According to reports in 2016, around 8000 Facebook users die daily, the equivalent of 428 every hour. In the first ten years of Facebook’s existence, 30 million users died — with 312,500 now reportedly passing away each month.In fact, if the social networking giant stops growing, more users will be dead than alive by 2065.

But have you ever thought what will happen to those accounts when you depart from this world? You may think 1. With my death, the account will cease operation 2. After a few months it will become dormant and has its own death, Both are fine- but what about the documents, pictures, and videos once you thought good to keep for your posterity? Or, on the other hand, that your family, friends or heirs may gain unwanted access to intimate records. 

In most countries’ legal systems, individuals have the right to decide what happens to their wealth and assets when they die. This is the long-established freedom to make a will and entrust your assets to whomever you wish.  This same freedom should extend online and enable individuals to decide what happens to their online ‘wealth’ ( personal data) when they die. Countries should bring law to make this effective, though a majority of the public still makes no Will foreseeing their death. 

The present social media giants are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp, Microsoft ( Cloud) and Google ( Drive). Let us see what is the policy of these giants once you are ‘out of the picture’.

FACEBOOK

Facebook has a clear policy established a few years ago after they found that they have a large number of deceased accounts. Family members could choose one of two options: close the account — Facebook will delete an account permanently upon the family’s request ( Need to provide Death Certificate) — or converting the account into a memorial profile. But they will never provide login information to anybody other than the user whether the user is dead or alive. An online form is available to report the user’s demise.

After reviewing the account and find no activity for the past 3 or months, Facebook will convert the account into a Memorial. ( Deletion of the account is easy). Facebook removes sensitive information from the profile. This includes contact information and addresses. status updates to protect the privacy of the deceased user. Once it is done, only friends or relatives can access the account. This memorial page will not list while on a Search.

The company will also deactivate the user’s login information. This prevents anyone from guessing the user’s password and logging in to cause mischief.

One disadvantage is that, If no one contacts Facebook to alert the user’s death, his or her profile will remain active indefinitely. Facebook doesn’t delete inactive accounts without notification. Depending upon the user’s privacy settings, people will still be able to search and visit the profile and leave comments.

What you can do?

You can add a ‘legacy contact’ – someone you choose to look after your account if it’s memorialised. To add a legacy contact, go to your account’s general setting, select ‘settings’ and click ‘manage account.’ Type in a friend’s/ family member’s name and click ‘add’. and, click ‘send.’  Families can close or ‘memorialise’ accounts so certain features, like birthday reminders, no longer appear. Families can ask Facebook for access to some of the account’s content (but not private chats).

TWITTER

To deactivate a deceased person’s twitter account, an authorized person or a verified family member should contact Twitter for further action ( Requires a copy of ID from the person making the request and a copy of the death certificate.) Otherwise, Otherwise, the only other option is to leave the account as is. Twitter has no provision to memorialize any account like in Facebook. However, Twitter clearly states that it will not give access to a deceased user’s account regardless of his or hers relationship to the family member or friend requesting authorisation.

GMAIL:

The Inactive Account Manager feature allows you to set a certain amount of time (3,6 or 9 months) you want Google to wait before considering you ‘inactive’. One month before that deadline, Google sends you an email alert or text message. If you still haven’t entered your account by then, Google will notify your ‘trusted contacts’ (you can list up to 10) and share your data with them if you have chosen to do so. Google uses several signals to figure out whether you’re still using your Google Account, such as last sign-ins, recent activity, usage of Gmail and Android check-ins. To set up the Inactive Account Manager, go to www.google.com/settings/account/inactive and click ‘setup’. 

INSTAGRAM

instagram permits to keep an account belongs to a deceased person for memorialization. To report, Instagram’s Help Center must be contracted and proof of death ( Death Certificate, Obituary, or news). Posts of the deceased user will stay shared on the site and are visible to the people they were shared with, but memorialized accounts do not appear in public spaces like searches. A closure request can be made only by immediate family members.

France has adopted a Digital Republic Act 2016 where bequeath of Digital Wealth is possible. The use of software tools like in Google In Active Account Manager or Facebook Legacy Contact should solve the problem to a certain extend. However, it is your personal decision whether to transfer the digital wealth to your heirs, or keep as Memorial or give a slow death ( inactive) after you pass away from this beautiful earth.

Reference: Independent, Mail online, Sun, News.com.au

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