• Social media is used by millions to share posts, photos and messages
• When you die restrictive policies mean heirs are banned from adopting your account
• Google allow ‘digital wills’ so your data can be downloaded by your chosen friends
• Facebook allow a ‘legacy contact’ to memorialise your account.
Social Media has quickly become an integral part of modern living. We use it to share both the mundane and more exceptional moments from our lives.
Our photos and opinions when posted online become a digital extension of ourselves and how we would like others to perceive us. But what happens to your Social Media accounts when you inevitably die?
Social media accounts can encompass a wide variety of digital property including photos, videos, email folders, private messages, documents which may all be of sentimental value to your loved ones. Can they be transferred or are they deleted? Each of the major companies have different policies on death.
A Google account provides use of their large range of services including image and document hosting, as well as Gmail and Google Plus.
As the leading software platform on the internet it may come as no surprise that Google’s policies on user death are the most progressive.
As an account holder you choose whether you want your data to be deleted or for it to be passed on to a trusted contact.
You use the Inactive Account Manager tool to instruct Google on what to do with your digital data once you die. You can opt to have your data deleted or for it to be passed on to a trusted contact.
You first set a time-out period of either 3, 6, 12, 15 or 18 months. If there is no activity on your account in that time your post-death instructions will take effect.
You can notify contacts so that anybody who emails you receives an automatic reply to them explaining why you haven’t responded.
Choosing delete account will delete everything related to your Google accounts including your Google+ posts, blogs on Blogger, email messages, files stored on Google Drive, photos and any videos posted to YouTube.
You can Share Data. You choose the app data you want to share and the contacts you want to receive it. They then have a 3 month window to download it.
This is the world’s leading social network. It is also the service where people are often most revealing about their lives posting candid photos and personal opinions. As such Facebook try to balance the needs of friends sympathetically, whilst maintaining their focus on user privacy.
As an account holder you can instruct Facebook to either delete your account or to memorialise it. After your death a legacy contact, which is an authorised person such as a spouse or family member, will need to provide proof of death to Facebook via an online form for your request to be actioned.
If you opt to have your account deleted then all your likes, posts, status updates and photos will be permanently removed, however any messages you sent to a friend will still remain in their inbox.
If your account is memorialised it becomes an online space where friends can remember you. The word ‘Remembering’ will be shown above your name. Your wall posts will be preserved and confirmed friends can leave messages of condolence or remembrance. Friends can also request to view a Look Back video which contains a video with highlights of any pictures and videos you posted.
If you choose a friend to be a legacy contact for your account, they will be able to change the profile picture and cover photo, write a pinned post on the Timeline and respond to new friend requests. They will not be able to delete or download any content or view any private messages from the account.
Microblogging site Twitter offer less options. In the event of your death the company will deactivate your account at the request of an immediate family member or person authorised to act on behalf of your estate. After thirty days the account will be permanently deleted.
Twitter will not allow your authorised person any access to your account or to view private tweets or download Twitter messages, however as they are public this is a moot point as they can be read on your Twitter page.
Software giant Microsoft have a Next of Kin procedure in place for users of their Outlook, Hotmail, Live, MSN and Windows Live email services. In the event of your death or you becoming medically incapacitated they will send a verified family member a data DVD with copies of all emails and attachments, address book and contacts lists. For privacy reasons they will not reset the password or allow a contact direct access to the account. They will close the account.
Yahoo email accounts also provide access to the massive Flickr photo sharing community which has made them popular with photographers.
However Yahoo’s policies regarding death are perhaps the most restrictive as they allow no right of transfer. They neither provide access to the accounts or access to data from them.
They will allow a verified representative of the deceased to close the account, stopped billed services and delete all content including emails and publicly shared photos on Flickr.
Instagram’s premise is that it allows people to capture spontaneous moments in photos and short videos, so for grieving relatives viewing your Instagram page may elicit the most emotionally charged reaction of all.
The photo-sharing app and website has seen a massive explosion in its popularity since the company was bought by Facebook it also offers the facility for an authorised representative to delete or memorialise the account. However there are some differences from memorialising a Facebook account.
As there is no option to select a legacy contact nobody is allowed to log in to a memorialised account. Likes, followers, posts, and tags cannot be changed in any way. Any posts you made remain visible to the people they were shared with.
Take steps to back up your digital life
Some social media companies have been slow to update their restrictive policies. However if you take active steps to choose a progressive service you can choose to leave a digital echo of your life, or have it erased entirely from existence.