Thousands of social-media users pass away each day, but what happens to their accounts?
Social media beyond the grave
Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest – whichever social-media platform is your poison, if you scroll through the lists of suggested contacts or "people you may know", there’s bound to be someone in there that has since shuffled off this mortal coil. Which begs the question: what happens to our "digital footprints" after we die? With more than two billion active global Facebook users and half that number on Instagram, it’s something more of us are beginning to get concerned about.
Are our social-media personas immortal? That depends which ones we’re talking about. Every day thousands of accounts become inactive after a user dies and DIFC Wills & Probate Registry has been finding out what UAE residents would prefer to happen to their social-media "legacy" in the event of their death.
The survey found that 53 per cent of respondents have at least thought about the matter, while 89 per cent would like to think their social-media accounts would be deactivated after death. Our digital footprints (including social media, cloud storage and messaging apps) were viewed as assets by 42 per cent, and 25 per cent said they would be inclined to include their accounts and profiles in their wills or succession plans.
So what are the options for accounts run by people who are no longer with us? Perhaps unsurprisingly the six most commonly used platforms each have different rules. Facebook, for instance, allows users to appoint a Legacy Contact – someone who can post a final message or memorial on your timeline. Google enables you to appoint what it calls an Account Trustee and you can control what that person is able to access, as well as for how long (it varies between three and 18 months).
Twitter will only permit access to an account if you can prove its user has died; Pinterest accounts will be active forever; Snapchat won’t allow anyone to look after accounts, but they do become inactive over time. As for Instagram, you can memorialise an account after a user’s demise, but it cannot be changed in any way.
All of which is leading increasing numbers of people to entrust their login details to their partners, friends or relatives, so their accounts can be either managed or deactivated should they pass away, although nearly half of those questioned by the Registry said they wouldn’t want their mothers being able to access them, even though they wouldn’t be there to get embarrassed.
“We strongly encourage individuals to start their life admin,” advises Sean Hird, director of DIFC Wills & Probate Registry, “so that their assets, including digital and physical, are handled according to their wishes after death. Passing on social-media account details is similar to some of the practical aspects of making a will. This may include ensuring your beneficiaries have access to important details and passwords.”
In addition to the DIFC survey, financial services company Friends Provident International, has published a guide to help expats and their advisors, called A Matter of Life and Death. It is also available at www.difcprobate.ae.