Wellness

What happens to your social media accounts when you die is up to you

Things to keep in mind if you don't want your legacy to be your drunken escapades.
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Social media is ideal for capturing instantaneous memories and resharing old ones, but how much thought have you put into your digital future? Our photos, videos, messages, and comments will live on long after we're gone, floating aimlessly in that electronic ether. If you've never thought about your digital life after death - and you're certainly not alone - it may surprise you to discover that major social media platforms have, and that there are a few things you can do to deal with your data when you're not around to do it yourself.

Facebook

Facebook is the biggest archivist of our content, both self-posted and posted through others (like your friends). So Facebook has policies and procedures that allow you to have your account deactivated upon your death or transformed into a "memorialized" account. A memorialized account is exactly that: a place where your friends can share memories and your already posted content is still available for view. Otherwise, the account is essentially sealed, meaning it won't show up in "People You May Know" or birthday feeds, nor can it be logged into. Should you wish your account to remain somewhat active post-mortem, you can assign a Legacy Contact, a manager of your online estate that is able to post on behalf of the account, change the profile picture and accept new friends, but is not permitted to read your messages or make other major changes.

Instagram

Owned by Facebook, Instagram has similar sentiments but a much simpler process. Memorialized Instagram accounts are basically frozen, meaning they cannot be logged into nor will they appear in any searches, but the previous content, info, comments and likes performed by the account will remain. Oddly enough, Instagram still allows other users to send direct messages and pictures to the memorialized account, though no one has access to them. While they have no "legacy contact" option in place, you'll still need a close contact with enough of your personal information to report you as deceased.

Twitter

With more emphasis on the instantaneous than the past, Twitter has a more limited process in place. Contacts of the deceased can report your death to Twitter in a manner similar to Instagram, but that will only lead to the accounts deactivation from the platform, without the opportunity for any other content or a transference of ownership to take place.

Snapchat

Snapchat currently has zero public policy or process in place in the event of a user's death. But all those snaps you sent just disappear anyway… right?

Email

Amongst the biggest email servers, Google actually has an Inactive Account Manager. You can set a specific timeline (based on your usual usage) and, if Google detects that you've been inactive, they alert a pre-designated trusted contact regarding your situation (if you have passed, been in an accident, etc.). You can pre-select the Google data you would like to have shared with them (emails, docs, Youtube account, etc.) in the event of your passing. Yahoo account owners have access to a simpler system where someone would have to contact the provider on your behalf with the proper documentation to have your account closed and all of your data deleted. Icloud also has a similar service in place.

What to do

The most important thing to remember with any social media you use is that each platform's terms and conditions (while already complex and confusing) can change at any time, so it may be wise to impose a little self-planning.  If you're not comfortable going through the provided methods, you can always appoint a trusted contact of your own and give them access to your passwords so they can manage or deactivate your accounts when you're gone (and even state as much in your will if you're that serious about it). No matter how you choose to protect your social media, the wisest advice of all might be to not post anything you wouldn't want to be discovered after you're gone.


RJ Skinner is an actor, writer and pro wrestler, so he rants and raves in various states of undress. Follow him on IG @rjcity and if you're feeling crafty, behold the Cynical Crafter.