Death & Social Media

BY Amanda Horsford
2012/02/16

Nobody wants to talk about dying, but like taxes you can’t ignore it without consequences. Everyone knows they should draft a will “just in case” or arrange for a power of attorney to protect your rights when you may be unable; but what about all those social networks we have. Do we need to prepare ourselves for how to manage those as well?

In recently experiencing the death of a long-time friend and mentor of mine, I’ve spent a bit of time considering the good, the bad, and the ugly of death and dying in this new era of social connectivity:

The Good

•    Getting the news out there with the exponential power of social networking. Whether it’s the breaking news of the death of Steve Jobs or Jack Layton, or the quiet passing of a close friend, there is nothing as quick and efficient to let people know what has happened as social media.
•    Evoking memories, posting tributes and sharing stories. All the things we use to connect and share everyday seem even more powerful in bringing people together to celebrate a life.
•    An expanded support network. By staying in touch and sharing updates, help from caring and generous folks always seems close at hand.
•    Getting in touch, and staying in touch. It’s amazing how when we are brought together at a funeral we talk about how long it is since we last saw each other and that it is under such unfortunate circumstances. Reuniting reinforces how important it is to stay in touch and social networking makes it easier than ever.

The Bad

Social media just adds to the growing list of things you need to deal with when a loved one dies. There are so many loose ends to wrap up: the death certificate, taxes, insurance, and all those personal accounts to close, but seldom do we think about the online accounts, each with their usernames and passwords (all different of course), and none so personal as our social networks.

•    Skype – I remember thinking every time I logged into Skype that “I can’t call Janet” which I found stressful. As much as it may be one of the stages of grieving, I had to remove her from my contacts list.
•    Facebook – It seems even more difficult to even consider having to “unfriend” someone who has died. It’s not like you are no longer their friend but seeing a Facebook page frozen with their last post before their death is also extremely uncomfortable.
•    Twitter – I’ve never been a huge Twitter fan and it seems the impact to a person’s followers may be less permanent and personal than on Facebook the account would
•    LinkedIn – Often a person’s professional network is very separate from their other more personal social networks but this means that there may be more people who are unaware of the circumstances when it is time to close an account. It’s as if that person just “disappears”.

Ever wonder how to say farewell to all those friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances on Facebook… well, now there’s an app for that:

if i die – what will you leave behind?

What happens to your Facebook profile if you die?

if i die is the first and only facebook application that enables you to create a video or a text message that will only be published after you die.

The FB photo gallery makes light of your last message to the world but the underlying idea of having a plan in place and communicating to trustees what you want to happen BEFORE you die is sound.
So far the concept has received mixed reviews.

The Ugly

Then there are the more unfortunate cases that lend a cautionary tale for how we use social media in life and in death. Creating virtual shrines to the dead on social networks can be a dangerous endeavor as outlined in this article recently published in Toronto Life outlining the online aftermath of a particularly sensitive case.

Death and dying may be a melancholy topic but it’s also an important one. As is so often the case, we want to leave our loved ones behind without causing any extra hassles or emotional stress and good planning and communication is the best bet.

Have you thought about your preparations for when you die in this hyper social world we live in today?

  • 16/02/12

    EricNeal says:

    Wow great read. I find this theme coming up more and more due to the ever-growing numbers on facebook. Its an entirely new dynamic and will receive some push-back as with all new things we don't understand (how do I interact online with those who have passed away?) Closing social media accounts will definitely be added alongside closing real-world accounts.
  • 17/02/12

    Moira Horsford says:

    very meaningful to me. Jim Horsford was on my FB list for ages after. Yes he is still my family and friend but our communication has changed. Finally had to let go and unfriend him in this life.
  • 18/02/12

    Amanda says:

    Thanks for the feedback. It will be interesting to see how the management of digital identities and assets after death evolves. I just saw this article on how this will increasingly become a legal matter that would override the Service Agreements with digital entities such as Facebook & Yahoo forcing them to provide the account information to the person's estate. Check it out: http://mashable.com/2012/01/26/digital-assets-after-death/
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