In June of this year my father underwent an emergency heart surgery, don’t worry he’s fine now. However, in the few days leading up to the operation I had my first taste of mortality. Ironically what unsettled me most during this period of unavoidable “what if” discussions, was when my mother said,
“If something bad does happen we’ll have to get your dad to write down all his social media passwords so we can hold onto them after he’s gone.”
I’m sorry, what?
The idea of commandeering a deceased persons Facebook account was, a thought, I found so incomprehensibly morbid.
Reflecting on it now I see that between us we embodied the polarising sides Coldwell identifies in his article, ‘It divides people on a gut level’ (Coldwell 2013, para. 3). Yes, it had.
Yet the issue of posthumous posting, is not only a question of personal ethics and morality but also of legality. Within its publication the Kentucky Law Journal (2014) highlights the rising discrepancies between legislative law and social media provider’s contracts. When activating a new account we’re required to sign a User Agreement, a document that is often ignored, guilty. Yet within its contents there are terms and conditions that would be violated upon turning a deceased individuals account over to another, or even simply insisting it be left in peace. Because of these conflicts, court orders are repeatedly petitioned between site providers and grieving families (Gaied 2016, p. 281).
Each platform outlines its own policies with respect to post-life online activity. Some media platforms, like Facebook, allow users options to pre-set before death (Facebook Help Centre 2016). Others, such as Twitter, establish blanket rules that ensure users accounts will be deactivated after a specified amount of time (Hollon 2014, p. 1033). There continues to remain numerous grey areas surrounding legal processes concerning ownership of social media content after death. An issue that will need to be resolved as social media continues to become permanently embedded into the human existence.
Journalist Michael Hiscock, predicts that by 2065 Facebook will be overrun with deceased users, truly a ‘digital graveyard’ (Hiscock 2016, para. 4). We’ve certainly entered the digital age if it is now necessary to include in your will, “and in the case of my death I hand over my Snapchat to…”. On that note, be right back, going to go talk to my lawyer to ensure no one gets access to my Tumblr account when I’m gone.
For a comprehensive analysis on the various procedures required for posthumous account deactivation across social media platforms see here.
How do you feel about it?
- Should a robot keep active for you?
- Should your sites be deleted?
- OR should it just remain untouched, in memorial of you?