Here Lies My Digital Footprint

As humans, we all mourn death in different ways, but what if that way was to run the social media account of a loved one who has departed? It’s strange to think about, but it is happening in our online world today.

Mourning on social media is “a reconfigured rather than an entirely new form of mourning”. Social media is a very powerful tool in which we can communicate with each other. Mourning has always been considered as something remotely private. Nowadays, we can communicate with our circle of friends and followers that we are mourning a loss. Whether this is sharing a memory or photo of the deceased, sending a message to the deceased, or even running the deceased’s Facebook page.

When my dog passed away, one of the forms my mourning took was through social media. A couple of days after his passing, I posted some pictures of my dog on Instagram in remembrance of his life. Believe it or not, this actually helped me heal from my dog’s loss because I was getting love and support from those who had seen the pictures. Although my dog has passed, he left a digital footprint behind because of “his” Instagram account mochachip_thedog. Although my dog is not a human, it still leads to the question of if we need to take down the deceased’s social media accounts after they have departed? According to the Digital Death Survey in 2014, 62% of the people who surveyed considered it ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to be able to access a deceased friend of family member’s social media accounts.

Image by Hashem Al-Nasser / Flickr

With social media such as Facebook and Instagram you can now choose to prepare for your death. When your digital footprint becomes your legacy, some people choose to take action. Facebook and Instagram allow users to either memorialize your page or permanently delete your page after you are deceased. With the memorialize feature, your profile becomes a permanent memorial page operated by whomever you deem to do so. Twitter does not allow this option for users, although family members are able to request that the page of the deceased be deleted. In Britain, research from YouGov shows that those who were over the age of sixty-five were more likely to want their profiles fully erased, while in contrast those who were from eighteen to twenty four years old were less likely to want their profiles fully erased.

On Facebook, if one does not specify that you would like their account permanently deleted, then Facebook will automatically memorialize the profile if they become aware of that person’s passing. Once the account is memorialized there will be some changes. The word remembering will show next to the person’s name on their profile page. All content that the person posted will stay visible to their Facebook friends and depending on the privacy settings of the account, sometimes friends can share memories on the memorialized profile. If there is not a legacy contact (who is the person running the memorialized account) then the memorialized page cannot be changed in any way. This memorialized Facebook profile feature is similar to having an online tombstone of some sort.

Image by Book Catalog / Flickr

Would you plan for your death on your social media accounts? What could all of this lead to: online funerals? Putting your social media accounts in your will?

According to BBC, as of right know you can’t add social media accounts to your will, as it is a grey area. Although, you can add your digital estate to your will if it has monetary value such as your iTunes library. This however is not taking into account social media influencers. Instagram influencers can make a lot of money through their Instagram pages. Could an influencer leave their social media accounts to a loved one? Would an influencer’s social media accounts entail as a digital estate because there is some profit to be made? There are many unanswered questions and the uncharted waters of social media and death continues to become more apparent as technology progresses.

Homepage Image via Julio YAIA / Flickr

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