The heart of social media is
to be able to share ourselves—our memories, our thoughts, our history—with the
communities that matter most to us. It’s fun, spreads information, and is the
platform for engaging with others with whom you wouldn’t normally interact.
It’s not an exaggeration to say our social media is a digital extension of
ourselves. As with every new technology, unforeseen problems and questions
arise, including issues of ownership. Nowhere are these problems more evident
than in the complicated management of social media accounts of people who have

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Credit: Mashable

Whether intended or not,
social media is property, and as with any property there are questions of whom
a social media account belongs to after you die. Admittedly it’s morbid, but
worth thinking about for important reasons. In my family alone, my mother
prefers to be cremated, my father wants a traditional funeral and burial, and
my brother would prefer what he terms a “celebration” and doesn’t care what
happens to his body. Despite their differences, each of them has clearly
articulated their specific wants post-mortem. The same should be true in social
media. Do you want your page to close down? Be reconfigured as a memorial?
Perhaps you want your family to have access to your pictures and be able to
save them, but not your private messages? If your page closes down, does that mean
the Twitter thread conversations and tagged memories are removed from your
friends’ history? If it’s left up, will it be awkward when your birthday rolls
around every year?

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Given that social media is
supposed to be an enjoyable way to connect us with the world, these are
difficult questions to address. But the more we reconcile the belief that our
social media presence is as much a possession as a bank account, the easier it
will be to address these circumstances. As we have the right to bequeath our
physical possessions to anyone we chose, social scientists like
Edina Harbinaj
and Lillian Edwards believe there should be a codified legal protection for post-mortem
privacy: “the right of a person to preserve and control what becomes of his or
her reputation, dignity, integrity, secrets or memory after death.” Just like a
will, you are not required to have one; but if you do, the law must respect it
after your passing. While in the US online data is a protected entity, in the
EU and other countries it is not. <o:p></o:p>

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Some social media platforms already have their own policies, but
the will of the deceased should override any options chosen on those sites.
Google/Gmail has an inactive account manager feature where if you have been
inactive on the site for a specific period, Google can release your information
to designated contacts. Facebook and Instagram both allow for memorialization
of accounts and a specified family member or friend can manage it. In addition,
they can have access to some information like photos, but not all activity like
private messages. Twitter specifically requires a family member to request the
closure of an account, otherwise it will remain open. Unfortunately, these
options are woefully inadequate and don’t respect the vagaries in people’s
relationships to their families and their online presence. Perhaps I would
rather a friend oversee my Twitter account than verified family member. And
while I’d be happy to let my friends keep some of our more raucous photos from
college, I don’t want them falling into the hands of my very traditional grandmother.
If my death is a result of foul play, I would want the police to have access to
private messages and emails, but only if warranted.

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In this digital age, our choices are slim
but need to grow to reflect the complexity of social media’s presence in our
lives. Instead of opting into a company policy, really think about how you want
your account, and thus your possessions and memory, to be handled. You wouldn’t
just default into a bank policy about who has access to your accounts once
you’re gone, so why do that here. Be specific. What part of each account
belongs to someone? And maybe there is a timer? It would be most beneficial if
social media platforms allowed us to specify what we personally want to have
done in the event of our death. Until then, consider making it part of your
will, protecting you and your legacy after you’re gone.



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