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The digital afterlife: what happens in social media when we die? Part I

As I laid out in the introduction of my travelogue, I will explore various aspects of death and social media. How is death experienced in our digital age? How does it affect the mourning process? And what new rituals emerge? But first of all, I will explain what policies exist for the digital afterlife in social media. Can family members or friends access the account of a deceased person? Should you put logins and passwords in your  will? As our lives and belongings become part of the Internet, death poses particular challenges to our legacy.

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For further information:

Post-mortem policies of social networks:

Facebook: if you’d like to report the death of a loved person, this is the contact form, for general information consult What happens (online) when we die: Facebook
Google Buzz: Accessing a deceased person’s mail
Twitter: What happens (online) when we die: Twitter
MySpace: How can you delete or access a deceased user’s profile?

Companies that can take care of your digital legacy:

About your digital assets:
FarmVille and SecondLife and how virtual estates lead to real-word headaches

Other resources

The Digital Beyond

Similar Posts:


  1. niharika 00:12, Mar 28th, 10

    This is very interesting, I had no idea that Google allows you to request access to a deceased person’s email.
    I have often thought of what happens to all the information one stores online, in these virtual spaces that only we have access to…. how taxing it must be for family and friends to try and gain access to this information which may hold important details of the estate of the deceased person. (Especially considering how many mundane everyday tasks, which otherwise involved paperwork, are now performed online)

    Are there laws and legislative measures protecting these virtual estates? Have there been cases of misuse of this information found on the web?

  2. Jimena 12:20, Mar 28th, 10

    Great post, Nadine.

    It is very interesting how the different companies deal with the digital afterlife. The fact that Facebook allows a profile to be accessed by a friend or family member, and even turned into a memorial, contrasts highly with Yahoo’s delete-all policy.

    It all goes back to the privacy issue. The digital life that people lead may or may not have anything to do with their lifes in the real world. What right do we have for some stuff to remain private after our death? My email account may contain a lot of information that I would not like to disclose to certain people, as close as they may be, after my death.

    With Facebook it’s the same. Would I want my mom/husband/lawyer to suddenly gain access to all of my pics or my personal messages?

    Of course, this issue is also present in real life– when you die, people can read your journal, go through your old letters, learn your secrets. But while it was usually one or two people going to go through a loved one’s stuff after he passed away, the Web remembers and replicates to an invisible audience, and your stuff can remain online and out of your control forever. I think it’s pertinent to consider who do you want to trust your ‘digital will’ to after you pass away.

    ps. I think DeathSwitch is kind of a creepy name! lol

  3. juliette b 14:03, Mar 28th, 10

    Nadine I really enjoyed your post!

    I think that you are diving into a major problem of our societies that have such a hard time dealing with death. Most of the time, western societies have a tendancy to turn a blind eye on death.
    Social Media should definitely adress the problem. I agree with Jimena that I would not like to have my email account available to anybody (espacially considering the amount of information that is recorded in it which is way beyond a journal!).
    Do you think those companies (Google, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter etc…) could include in the settings the will of users considering the legacy of their accounts?

    You might be interested in this post which deals with your subject.
    I can see that you are becoming a master of podcast ;-)

  4. juliette b 14:06, Mar 28th, 10

  5. juliette b 14:12, Mar 28th, 10

  6. juliette b 14:14, Mar 28th, 10
  7. ElzbthMllr 11:32, Mar 29th, 10

    I found this podcast really interesting. It’s interesting how different websites have different policies. I’m looking forward to hearing more specifically about the idea of incorporating people’s desires to either allow their digital footprint to remain (or not) into their wills. They key thing that struck me is that whether or not families, friends, next of kin, or whatever have access, as you mention, Facebook still owns your pictures for example. It puts a huge amount of control over the digital world with companies, and I just question whether that is a good thing or not. And as all of these platforms become merged, which seems to be happening, it just seems more and more likely that this kind of information stays in the online world long after individuals are gone. It kind of creeps me out the more I think about it.

  8. Alexandra 10:41, Mar 30th, 10

    This is fascinating! Great job. I have actually been wondering about this recently. My friend’s brother unfortunately passed away recently and his profile was still up on Facebook last time I checked, and I was wondering what would happen to it. I think it’s kind of weird how people still write on the walls of deceased people. It sounds like a lot of the social networking sites are still evolving their policies. I’m looking forward to next week!

  9. Harris 12:09, Mar 30th, 10

    What happens if someone lies about someone’s death to gain access to their accounts?
    I loved your formal journalist-like tone in the podcast, lol didn’t know expensive equipment does that to people :D

  10. Ryan 14:24, Mar 30th, 10

    Wonderful job! I really enjoyed how you compared and contrasted different website policies concerning mainly photos or profiles. Your podcasts really gets at the issue of control and access. I like how you added references at the bottom to further contextualize your topic.