Your Digital Legacy: What Happens to your Online Accounts when you Pass Away?
We go through life signing up to online accounts, almost without thought. Our digital footprint is likely quite large and offers significant insight into our lives. Our social media accounts, with our pictures, opinions, events, and everyday mutterings, has transformed how we record the daily ins and outs of our existence. We are leaving behind quite the digital legacy with each choice we make.
Consequently, it would help if you thought about what should happen to your social media in the event of your death or the death of someone close to you. Here we explore the digital legacy policies of some of the larger social media platforms. To be forewarned is to be armed with the knowledge needed to make the right choices for you and your loved ones.
Facebook gives you the option to have your page memorialised. By choosing to memorialise your Facebook profile, you are freezing the page at that moment in time – leaving photos, posts, etc. in place and visible for your friends to see. It also means no one can log into the account and change the settings in the future, protecting your identity and your memory from outsiders.
You can set up a legacy contact via your Facebook settings. This contact is the person you nominate to inform Facebook of your death and who will have limited access to your account. They will be able to change your cover photo, accept new friends and pin a post to the top of the page. This is all they will be able to do – and once done, the page will remain as it is. To gain access, your legacy contact will need to submit a digital copy of your death certificate to Facebook.
If you do not want your page memorialised, you can request the page is permanently deleted in the event of your death. If this is your wish, all content will disappear from the internet.
The approach taken by Twitter is less clear. Many things can happen to your account when you die. The most likely outcome is that you leave details for someone else to access your account. You should note in your will what plan you have for this social media account and request these instructions be followed in the event of your death.
Twitter, as per their terms and conditions, will not allow the account to be transferred to someone else in the event of your death. Therefore, the person executing your wishes will need your passwords and written permission to access it. If someone informs Twitter of your death, they will not be able to access the account.
The executor can submit a death certificate and have the account deleted. You could trust a friend to go in and delete the account, or you can rely on Twitter’s inactivity policy that deletes an account after six months if not used.
LinkedIn has a clear policy for dealing with a profile of someone who has died. First, they do not permit legacy profiles. The details on the site cannot be memorialised. However, if left untouched, the profile will remain online.
If you want a profile deleted, you have to go to the official Help Centre for LinkedIn and fill in a form. You will be able to request the profile be removed.
As Facebook owns Instagram, the policy is similar. As with Facebook, you have the option to memorialise the page. Here the memorial page remains as it was at the time of your death and is frozen. No one will be able to change the photos or comments. To memorialise the account, you will need to send a digital copy of the death certificate or a link to the obituary.
Any link to the memorialised page, or mentions made of it, are monitored to help ensure that no content appears that could be upsetting to the person’s friends or family. However, it is also possible to have the account deleted with the death certificate and evidence that you are lawfully allowed to act on the individual’s behalf.
Sites like Snapchat and TikTok have yet to develop a policy about what happens in the event of a death. Snapchat offers condolences and requests you contact them directly. TikTok promises a policy in the coming months. It is likely, as the site hosts videos that there will be a memorial option.
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