In 2016, fans and friends of the late New York Times journalist David Carr, who had died a year earlier, were horrified when a sexbot hacked his Twitter account and began tweeting out spam. Although Twitter moved quickly to restore his account, it raised a number of issues about what happens to our social media after death.
As digital ccounts become more integral to our lives, and tend to serve as memorials after we're gone, it's important to know how each services addesses deceased users:
Currently, Twitter has just one way of handling a deceased user’s account. If a friend or family member reaches out and can provide an ID as well as a copy of the user’s death certificate, Twitter will deactivate the account. In special cases, the site may also remove certain imagery by request. But if you wanted to leave your account up even after you’re gone, you’re essentially leaving it open to hackers like Carr did. (Related: How To Close A Twitter Account When Someone Dies)
LinkedIn and Pinterest
LinkedIn and Pinterest both have similar policies in place to handle dead users’ accounts. For LinkedIn, a friend or family member would have to fill out this form to request deactivation. Pinterest requires an email with proof of death and proof of relationship to the deceased attached. (Related: How To Close A LinkedIn Account When Someone Dies | How To Close A Pinterest Account When Someone Dies)
Facebook and Instagram
Facebook and Instagram will deactivate upon request, but they also offer an option to “memorialize” the accounts of deceased users. This process starts similarly: A friend or family member must reach out and provide the proper documents. Once the verification is complete, the account is essentially decommissioned. It’s still there, but with some slight alterations. In Facebook’s case, the site adds a “Remembering” badge to the profile, hides the profile from public spaces, and prevents anyone from logging onto the account. Anything the user posted previously is still visible and, depending on the settings, friends can still add memories and comments to the wall. If a legacy contact was appointed, that person can update your photo, respond to friend requests, and add a pinned post to your profile (example: a final message). (Related: How To Close A Facebook Account When Someone Dies | Facebook Legacy Contact Acknowledges Death More Realistically)
As for Instagram, a memorialized account is also hidden from public spaces and no one can log into the account. Everything that was already posted remains as it was, and followers can send the user photos and video via Instagram Direct. But unlike Facebook, there is no option for a legacy contact and no portion of the profile is changed in any way. (Related: How To Close An Instagram Account When Someone Dies)
To close a YouTube account, a loved one must fill out this form and attach scans of a death certificate and his or her ID. That form can also shut down a Google account, since Google owns YouTube. (Related: How To Close A Google Account When Someone Dies)
Snapchat currently offers no special options or policies for handling a user’s death. The only way to remove an account is to log in and delete it. (Related: How To Close A Snapchat Account When Someone Dies)
Now that you know the basics, what should you do to protect your social media? Here are a few key rules.
1. Lay Out A Plan
It might seem frivolous to make plans for your Facebook account when you have houses, kids, and spouses to worry about, but it’s a good idea to think about your final wishes in this arena. Roger Ebert apparently left instructions with his wife on the use of his Twitter account for just this reason. So sit down and think of the following questions:
- What do you want done with your accounts? Do you want everything deleted or to live on forever? This will depend on the type of account and site. (Your Amazon account might have a bit more value than Papa John’s...unless you’re due a free pizza. Then use that before it’s too late!)
- Who do you trust that can get it done? Leave specific instructions about how you’d like them to be managed with a loved one.
With Facebook and Instagram, it shouldn’t be much of a hassle for your family to get them memorialized. But with Twitter or really anything else, you’ll need to put some thought into it, since someone else would essentially have to take over your account.
2. Appoint A Legacy Contact
Facebook accounts can be memorialized without a legacy contact. But if you don’t appoint one prior to your death, that means nothing about your profile can be changed. No updated photos, no pinned final messages, and no means to accept new friends who want to share their memories. If you’d like to keep that option open, do this:
- Go to Settings
- Then Security
- Then Legacy Contact
- Type in any Facebook friend’s name and hit “Add”
- After you click Send, your friend will be notified that they’ve been appointed as your legacy contact
You just have to be 18 or older to use this feature and you can remove and/or add a legacy contact at any time. (Here’s how they break it down on Facebook.)
3. Leave Your Login Information With Someone You Trust
All three of these social media sites explicitly ban family members and friends from obtaining your password, even if they can verify who they are. So if you want to keep your Twitter account active, you’ll need to entrust someone with your login credentials. This person can keep an eye on your account for potential hackers and if they see something suspicious, immediately change the password and report the issue.
Hope For The Best, But Plan For Everything
More than half of states in America have some form of digital estate legislation in place, which allows, to some degree, an Executor to treat digital assets like any other asset the deceased owned. But unlike an antique table, digital accounts are a bit more complicated, mainly because each service has its own set of rules.
For now, put all those rules aside and imagine this scenario: It’s a few months after you pass, and your family is doing their best to move on. Then one day, your social media accounts are overrun with inappropriate photos and virus-spreading spam. While it might be shocking, or even amusing, to acquaintances or people you barely knew, it will be deeply troubling to those who were closest to you.