This week’s post is a bit morbid and is unfortunately influenced by the untimely passing of one of my high school friends over spring break. When I returned from spring break, my friend and I started talking about how family members clean up the lose ends of a love one. In today’s world, people have more just a physical presence; they have an online identity too. So what happens to your online identity when you die?
Facebook has a policy to “memorialize” the page of a deceased person. This means that the person’s account settings are permanently changed to that their privacy is more strict but friends can still leave messages on their wall. According to Facebook,
Memorializing the account removes certain more sensitive information like status updates and restricts profile access to confirmed friends only. Please note that in order to protect the privacy of the deceased user, we cannot provide login information for the account to anyone. We do honor requests from close family members to close the account completely.
According to the New York Times in an article from 2007, people’s Facebook walls can become a way for friends and family to express their sadness, memories, and condolences to the family of the deceased. The article details the experience one family had after their daughter died of an illness. The family found looking at their daughter’s page as therapeutic as they were able to see all the lives that were connected to their daughter. They were also able to easily see pictures of her.
“It’s almost like having an open diary,” Burke [Mother of the deceased girl] said. “It’s good for when you don’t have a photo album handy, just go to the page and look there. Look at some happy times.
When my friend passed away, many of my other friends only found out through Facebook. After some one dies, there is always confusion and grief. Facebook, in my opinion, helped the family let others know of what had happened without having to make difficult phone calls. It also allowed friends to know the time and place of her memorial service.It’s been almost 3 weeks, and new messages are still appearing on my friend’s wall.
What about all those passwords?
There is a new program that is to debut in April called Legacy Locker. Basically, a user will store all of his or her passwords with this pay service. In the event of your death, Legacy Locker will release this information to specified family members. It can also send out farewell letters or make posts on certain websites. (Legacy Locker needs two people to verify that a person has died and requires a death certificate). You could probably write all of this information down, but with the dynamic nature of the Internet, you probably would have joined a few more sites or changed passwords before you updated you sheet of paper. Just take a minute to think about all the places that you have accounts..Facebook, Twitter, Online banks, ESPN, your online video game community (or fashion website, or dog lovers community or…or..or..). It would be a mess.
Depending on your online involvement, you may be a part of multiple different online communities. For instance, many people participate in online forums, where they may be regular posters. If you happen to get hit by a bus, how does the community know, especially if you never used your real name? Another service, similar to Legacy Locker is called Death Switch. Death Switch requires that you log in periodically. After not doing so for sometime and being prompted a few times by the service, Death Switch will that you are dead or critically disabled and starting emailing your list of contacts. You can set the prompts to be once a day or once a year, “depending on your lifestyle.”(I would imagine skydivers do the oncec a day setting while chess players pick lengthier gaps). I just hope you never forget your Death Switch password otherwise you will have some very upset relatives. To see a sample notice, go here.