Tweeting, posting, sharing, connecting, pinning, +1ing; it's all part of your thriving online social life. And all of those digital bits and bytes, a history of you and your Likes, remains on the servers of Facebook and Twitter and Google+ long after your time on this world comes to an end. So what happens to your social media accounts when you die?
With over 800 million active users, it's no surprise that Facebook has an established "death policy." Family members and friends can fill out a simple form with the pertinent details -- such as the deceased's name, proof of death and email address -- and after verifying the info, Facebook places the deceased person's profile into a memorialized state.
A memorialized profile only appears to people who Friended the person in life; it disappears from general search results. Facebook removes contact data and other sensitive details and disables the profile's login so that others can't post as the deceased or remove past posts. Friends and family can still see the deceased's Timeline and post memorial messages on his wall, however. An account can be deleted entirely upon request of a verified close family member.
Twitter doesn't keep profiles around in a memorialized state. The service does, however, allow immediate family members and authorized representatives of the deceased to ask for the deceased's account to be deactivated. It requires a decent amount of official paperwork, though. Check out the details here.
Anyone can have a deceased LinkedIn user's profile erased -- assuming you have a copy of their death certificate and know the email address the deceased person used to sign up for the social network. (If you're connected to the deceased on LinkedIn, you can see which email address he used by simply viewing his profile while you're logged in to your own.) Find more information here.
A brewing controversy
People have a couple of issues with the current state of social media death policies. One problem, as previously mentioned, is the complete lack of uniformity between the various social networks; many have no established death policy whatsoever.
You may have also noticed that none of the social networks actually grant loved ones the ability to access the deceased's account. This is, of course, to protect the deceased's privacy, but that doesn't cut it for grieving loved ones who want to pass on a message from those who are no longer with us or who need to access the deceased's account for some other reason.
A handful of states are working to enact laws that add social media accounts to the deceased's estate, giving authorized representatives the right to access the profiles. The Portland Press Herald reports that Oklahoma has already passed a law that does exactly that, and lawmakers in Nebraska and Oklahoma are considering similar proposals.
But the question remains: should loved ones be given full-blown access to deceased users' social media accounts? If you wouldn't sign into the person's Facebook account while he was alive, should you be able to do so when he's dead? Would you want someone sifting through your private messages posthumously?
How to prep my social media account for an emergency?
Currently, there's really only one thing you can do if you want loved ones to be able to log in to your social network profiles when you're gone: leave them a list of usernames and passwords. That still may not necessarily be 100 percent kosher, as the terms of service of the various social networks prohibit others from accessing your account. The Wall Street Journal says the best way to avoid privacy concerns is to leave behind some sort of clear, written authorization giving specific people permission to access your accounts. (You might not want to tell the social networks that you're accessing a deceased person's account, or it could be locked or deleted.)
It's certainly a contentious issue. What are your feelings about death and social media?