In the past two decades, the use of social media has grown rapidly. In fact, recent statistics show that almost 80% of Australians have a social media account. But what happens to these accounts when the social media user dies? Do they automatically disappear or do they live on (so to speak)? The answer varies depending on each social media company’s policies. In this post, we will look at four of the most popular of these social media platforms and how they deal with the death of a user.
The market leader of social media, Facebook allows users to appoint a ‘Legacy Contact’ under their memorialisation settings. Once the user passes away, his or her Legacy Contact can manage posts, profile pictures and friends. The Legacy Contact can also request the removal of the deceased user’s account. However, the Legacy Contact cannot post as the deceased user or see his or her messages. Alternatively, if a Facebook user does not want his or her profile to remain active after death, they can request to have their profile permanently deleted instead of appointing a Legacy Contact.
Once a Twitter user dies, it is up to his or her executor or next of kin to contact Twitter and request the account be deactivated. Twitter will of course require evidence of the user’s death and documents to prove that the next of kin or executor is authorised to make the request. Unlike Facebook profiles, once an account is deactivated, no one (including even the executor or next of kin) can access it.
Anyone can notify Instagram that a user has died. Once they have been notified and proof of death supplied, Instagram will then ‘memorialise’ the deceased user’s account. Once memorialised, an Instagram account cannot be accessed by anyone, all their existing photos will remain visible, and the word ‘Remembering’ will be displayed next to the user’s name. Additionally, an executor or administrator of the deceased user’s estate can request Instagram remove the account.
Similar to Twitter, LinkedIn will remove a profile once someone notifies them of a user’s death and provides satisfactory supporting documentation. However, until LinkedIn are notified, a profile will continue to exist despite any period of inactivity.
In addition to these specific policies and procedures, another way that users may wish to control what happens to their social media profiles when they die is to share their password with someone they trust. When the user dies, that person can then delete their profile. However, if you choose to give your password to someone else, you should be aware that this usually constitutes a breach of the social media company’s terms and conditions. Additionally, there is a risk that the person to whom you share your password may continue to use your profile against your wishes.
The above summaries demonstrate that having a legally valid Will, while essential, does not always deal with every ‘asset’ or consequence of your death. If you are unsure about which assets may fall outside the terms of your will (e.g. some digital assets and superannuation), please contact de Groots wills and estate lawyers by telephone on (02) 9101 7000 or visit our website to get started online.