Planning your digital demise: what happens to your social media profiles when you die?

What happens to you when you die?

I have no idea (I hope that you weren’t actually expecting me to have an answer), though I am able to shed some light on what happens to you on social media once you pass on.

If you’re the sort of person that has a penchant for TLDR’ing articles, I have included a pretty infrographic by WebFX below which will touch on most of what I am covering:

Facebook

XKCD estimate that Facebook’s dead users will likely outnumber their living ones by around 2065 and the entire site will be deserted a sometime after 2100. Scary thought that, though of all the social media accounts, Facebook provides the most sophisticated range of options with regards to what happens to that account after you die. Basically the fate of your profile could go four ways:

  • The profile remains untouched, un-accessed, and unreported – therefore it’s business as usual. This means that people can see your wall posts, tag you in photos, mention you in a status etc.
  • A close family member can petition Facebook to deactivate a deceased user’s account.
  • A loved one can report the death to Facebook and upon receipt of proof of death Facebook will switch the dead user’s timeline to a “memorial page.” Doing this will mean only current friends can post to the page or tag the user in photos. Important: Once a page has been ‘memorialised’ you cannot revert it back to a regular account.
  • Lastly, users may gain access to a dead user’s profile in one of two ways:
  1. Through knowledge of the dead user’s password (though Facebook is not really a fan of that)
  2. Through a court order, though Facebook’s terms of service are pretty clear about this and it’s fairly unlikely that you will be able to access a loved one’s account after their death.

Twitter

Among social media sites, Twitter has one of the simplest policies relating to the death of a user.

Put simply, Twitter will work with an authorised representative of the deceased to deactivate your account.

According to their policy, if your loved one has died, deleting their account is all that you will be able to do – you cannot access it yourself as it legally remains property of the owner.

While your profile and all your tweets will disappear into the online nether, your username will similarly be protected and other users will be unable to claim it.

In addition to this Twitter also actively hunts out and deletes inactive accounts after 6 months (just in case you’re planning on hiding out in the middle of nowhere for a while).

Google

Google and their plethora of services (Gmail, Google +, Google Drive etc.) are all accessed via a single Google account. As such, their policies regarding deceased users appear to be the same for all.

Frustratingly (at least in terms of writing a blog post), there are no hard and fast rules relating to what they’ll do with your account after you die.

What we do know is that Google will delete your account after 9 months (or whatever time you have previously set with the ‘inactive account manager’). This is perhaps the most elegant way to handle inactivity or death as designated users (up to 10) will be automatically notified at this point and will be able to access and download your data if they like.

Otherwise the account and all the information that is contained within it will disappear.

If you find yourself in the position of having to deactivate a loved one’s account you can do so through providing Google with a death certificate and the full header and content of an email from their Gmail account.

As with everything there is an exception, and Google will “in rare cases provide the account content to an authorised representative of the deceased user”.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is only going to deactivate an account once a user has been reported as deceased. You’re not going to be able to access a deceased persons account unless “LinkedIn has a good faith belief that disclosure is permitted by law” or they need to do so to comply with a legal ruling.

You can deactivate the account of a loved one through providing LinkedIn with that members name, your relationship to them, the company they worked for, a link to their profile, and their email address.

A word of caution, once the account is deactivated the username is up for grabs and there is nothing to stop someone from claiming it.

Pinterest

Guess what? You can be as inactive as you like and your Pinterest account will stick around for as long as Pinterest continues to be a thing.

Pinterest states that “because they want to respect the privacy of our Pinners, we can’t give out any personal or log in information”. There appear to be no exceptions to this.

However, through the use of official documentation (a death certificate and proof of your relationship to the deceased) you can have someone’s account deactivated.

As promised here is the pretty picture (click for full size image):

Preview

In Summary

I guess the key takeaways from this are that every social media site has a different way of handling deceased users, and while you might be in good health at the moment, it’s not a bad idea to make a plan for your data in the event of your passing.

Unsurprisingly ‘digital legacy management ’ agencies like Entrust.net and My Wonderful Life have sprung up in response to this and will help social media users make death arrangements.

If that was all a bit ‘too real’ for you, maybe this video of cute Kittens will help:

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Editor in Chief at here SMNZ, I have a passion for social and digital media. When not writing and managing SMNZ I am the Head of Innovation at TAG The Agency, a digital ad agency and the Head of Sales and Marketing for End-Game, a software development agency. I'm also involved with a number of startups and I am always keen to support those that are bold enough to give things a go. Start something, better to try than to live wondering what if...