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Death in the Age of Social Media

By: Savannah Warren

Many of us have a plan in place when it comes to allocating our tangible assets after our death. We write wills to detail who will receive our assets after we die. But in the digital age, another question arises. What will happen to our social assets? When it comes to social media accounts or digitally-tracked loyalty points, there are additional considerations that our society is just beginning to explore. With a multitude of different platforms, each having its own unique policy for dealing with the account of a deceased individual, there are many fronts to consider. We will examine the policies regarding user deaths on a few of the most popular platforms below.

Facebook

With Facebook’s massive user base, it is estimated that roughly 8,000 users die each day. Because of this, Facebook has put serious thought into the handling of these inactive accounts. Facebook is unique in that it allows for the account of a deceased individual to be memorialized after their death. At any time during their life, a user can designate a “Legacy Contact” to carry out any final wishes regarding the status of their account. This legacy contact must be at least 18 years old and, depending on pre-specified user instructions, will be permitted to either memorialize the account or request its deletion. A memorialized Facebook accounts differs from a standard one by placing the word “Remembering” in front of the user’s name. This account may be kept as a hub for loved ones of the deceased individual to share memories, stories, and photos onto the page. A legacy contact cannot, however, log into the account, edit previous posts, read messages, or edit the friends list. (source: https://turbofuture.com/internet/What-Happens-to-Your-Facebook-Page-If-You-Die)

Twitter

Twitter’s process for handling the account of a deceased user is slightly different than Facebook’s in that the account itself is entirely nontransferable. The only options available are to leave the account as it is, or to request its deletion. Previously, Twitter offered the option to save a copy of all the user’s tweets. Although this is no longer the case, third party services, such as Recollect, can automatically back up a user’s tweets so that they are accessible after the deletion of an account. While Twitter may be an easy account to forget about, it should be mentioned that a vacant account is an easy target for a spam bot. In 2016, a year after New York Times media columnist, David Carr, passed away, his account was overtaken by a sexting spam bot. In order to prevent situations like these, immediate family members may provide proof of death to Twitter’s Trust and Safety team and request to have the account deleted. (sources: https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/twitter-account-death/story?id=39253929, http://www.thedigitalbeyond.com/2014/04/what-happens-to-your-twitter-account-when-you-die/)

LinkedIn

If you come across a profile of a deceased colleague, classmate, or loved one on LinkedIn, there is a way to help remove their account from the platform. Anyone who knew the deceased user may request this deletion, regardless of their connection or available documentation. In LinkedIn’s Help Center, you can find a link to a DocuSign form that asks for the deceased member’s name, the last company they worked at, your relationship to him/her, and a link to the profile. LinkedIn will then review the profile and reach out with any additional information or questions. (source: http://www.thedigitalbeyond.com/2014/05/what-happens-to-your-linkedin-account-when-you-die/)

 Airline Miles and Hotel Loyalty Points

Anthony Bourdain’s death in 2016 raised another interesting issue regarding the transfer of frequent flier miles or loyalty accounts. Because there are so many unique airline and hotel programs, each has different language in their contract regarding the transfer of a deceased user’s points. Some allow for their transfer while others simply terminate the account. Some others, still, require the beneficiary to meet specific conditions before receiving the transfer. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you are unsure if a loved one’s points are transferrable, the best thing to do is call the specific airline/hotel agent and inquire about their unique policy. At the same time, if you’re looking to make sure your points could still be used after your death, look out for airlines and hotels that allow this type of transfer now. Some examples include Alaska Airlines, Southwest, Hilton Honors, and the Ritz Carlton. Be careful, though, as many of these companies require requests to be made in a certain time frame with certain documentation in order to redeem the points of a loved one. (source: https://thepointsguy.com/guide/points-and-miles-after-you-die/)

Although these topics can seem a bit dark, it is good to know that many social platforms are considering their policies in regard to a deceased user. By understanding the processes that are in place for some of your most used accounts, you can create a plan for how to handle them at the time of your death. Your wished can even be included in your estate planning documents. In general, it is true that the sooner you begin thinking about your wishes, the more likely you will be able to make sure they are carried out.