Social Media & Death... many unanswered questions remain

posted 9 Jan 2011, 15:44 by Jess Maher   [ updated 10 Jan 2011, 02:57 ]

"The social networks have a problem, in the case of a member dying, they need to satisfy both the wishes of the next of kin and family, and those of their friends on the network. Frankly, this is  no-win situation for the site. People grieve in different ways, some people will want the person’s profile taken down, others will want it to stay up, forever. If a profile stays up, is that good or bad? Do people want a constant reminder of the loss of a loved one? Their profile and comments will always look fresh, keep up to date with the latest site design, their profile picture never ages. Will this prevent us from properly moving on and coping with the death of a loved one?"

(Paul Silver, 2008, retrieved from

It is surreal to think, considering the context and reality of where we now find ourselves in this day and age, that just a week before he died, Grahame Maher had a conversation with us about this hotly debated and discussed issue in the social media world.. what happens to your life online when one dies?
When there is no clear anwser or understanding of who owns what information or data online, these kind of questions will continue to be difficult, unclear and confusing.
What is clear in this context is that regardless of who is aware of this or how regularly Facebook may or may not advertise this fact, but as a user, I have no right to my own information once I post it here. They own everything, and as that is dealt with in death, if I own nothing, then those left behind have no right to it. I requested the memorizalition of my fathers account when he died, in fact the same day I found out, and since have been unhappy or not satisfied with how it has been handled overall for a number of reasons. But being that I recognise that this information online which my Dad may have posted or talked about, was never his in the first place and is therefore not mine or any right of mine to feel it belongs to my family or myself in this case. 
Facebook has a process in place to handle the death of one of its users, there are two options presented to those loved ones of any users death, memorizalising the account or deleting the profile & pressence outright. If one is to memorize the account profile the person no longer appears in search results or feeds otherwise usually included on the site, which raises the concern that once an account has been memorialised, there are no other options or rights really afforded to those left behind, espically if the connection or confirmation is not yet confirmed. This raises the issue that if, for example, a parent signed up to Facebook on the death of thier child, they would still not be able to find or locate them on this medium.
The morning process is complicated and in her podcasts ; shock, denial, negotiation, angry, depression and then finally acceptance. Healthy morning processes can take anytime between six months and a year, in this case this may help them to deal with these stages. Whatever you don't express then we inact, when we talk about issues then we are able to learn and grow from them. Being able to read or being able to write about them, it is to some extent healthier than keeping it to yourself. Virtual pressence is not absolute, there maybe an expectation or tension between how we are using these medias to cope or if we are holding in this denial. 

With services and tools online sometimes requiring very "real world" payments or costs to users, discussions regarding the handing of "digital assets" in the event of ones death is going to continue to receieve increasing attention and debate. This topic is obviously one where personal opinion and individual chose is going to vary greatly from one person to the next.

And in recent times, there has been so much discussion of this kind of thing that the immergence of websites such as Legacy Locker, provide an indication into the ongoing importance from the mainstream in the social media world. The fact that there is never going to be a solution that solves everyone in any situation.. may make you recongiser the difficulty for this is this moment.

"Families are starting to learn that there's no easy solution for accessing online communication channels used by deceased loved ones.

"Email addresses for contacts that would like to be notified of a death, family photos that family members would like to export from online accounts and balances of cash sitting unclaimed in online services like PayPal or eBay are just a few examples of the kinds of assets that are all too often lost upon a death."       - Marshall Kirkpatrick, ReadWriteWeb

These kind of questions and discussions around your information, records & rights in death of a users on any given social networking sites need to be addressed...
of the permenant importance to the avaliability & access to an individual profile and each person differs in what they consider to be the appointed & approate choses.
The Legacy Locker site contains this discussions, suggesting that its individual that will determine what it is about what we each think is best when it comes to our digital rights has been demonstrated. Legacy Locker has actually recieved considerable amont of media attention aleady, including thier statements such as:
Online Assets Have Value

Do you have an email account? Or two? Or three? Do you buy or sell stuff with eBay, Amazon, PayPal, Yahoo! Stores, or elsewhere? Do you blog, or use Twitter, or put up videos on YouTube? Do you share or backup photos with Flickr, Photobucket, Snapfish, Kodak Gallery, or Shutterfly? Do you maintain your identity at LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, or Plaxo? Do you have credits in the iTunes store, or at

Think about all the time you spend online these days, and how important and valuable these sites and services are to you and your family. It's not fun to think about, but the reality is in the event of your death most of these companies and services have no provision for passing your account onto your loved ones (even a will doesn't help!). Legacy Locker is the best way to guarantee access to your online accounts for all of the people you think should receive them, be it a spouse, child, friend or colleague.