In recent months, two people in real life that I am connected with in my social media universe have died. One to cancer, and the other as a result of suicide. It got me thinking (which is dangerous), what happens to a person’s online presence after their life ceases to exist?
In both instances that I mentioned above, the Facebook walls of these people were transformed into a memorial page. Many friends posted videos, pictures or short memories in tribute to the deceased. Even weeks after the person passed on, people still visit the page and post about how much they miss the person, and how they would make a great angel. I personally think it is a beautiful way to memorialize the person forever.
When my dear friend, Jeff Lamana, died of cancer Facebook, Twitter and Myspace did not exist in the way that they did today. Back in 2006, social media was just starting to build momentum. Jeff was a big Philadelphia sports fan, and had a website – Philaphans.com, which he shared his commentary and opinions with several contributors. After he had passed on, he was forever memorialized underneath the logo of the home page: “Founded by Jeff Lamana” it reads. Jeff’s fight with cancer and passion for sports had also caught the attention of several bloggers (which, again was more popular than social media at the time). One of those post can be found here.
Should usernames and passwords be included in your will? If you suffer from computer-related alzheimers, like my mother and grandmother do, and you write all of your usernames and passwords down in a book next to your computer, it won’t be needed. However, if you keep all of your personal information private, relatives may still not be able to get into your accounts by using the “forgot password” feature. I found this article from Time Magazine, and there is a website that has a system for releasing usernames and passwords after their subscribers have passed on.
Deathswitch, which is based in Houston, has a different system for releasing the funeral instructions, love notes and “unspeakable secrets” it suggests you store with your passwords and account info. The company will regularly send you e‑mail prompts to verify that you’re still alive, at a frequency of your choosing. (Once a day? Once a year?) After a series of unanswered prompts, it will assume you’re dead and release your messages to intended recipients. One message is free; for more, the company charges members $19.95 a year.
My blogger friend Harold once suggested that Bloggers create a “buddy system” of sorts. Setup contact through email or offline. That way if the blog posts, or social media updates stop suddenly, you can contact the designated buddy and let them know what’s going on. Many of you will probably remember my blogging hiatus around October of 2006. As it would turn out, I was nearly “dooced” for something that I had blogged by the company I was employed for at the time. Because Harold and I both had contact through AIM and MSN Messenger, I was able to communicate to him what was going on, and he was able to relay the message along to my fellow readers. I recommend finding a blogging/social media buddy that you can communicate these feelings/issues to. Maybe if my friend George had confided in more people his suicide could have been prevented.
RIP GEORGE GUMPERT
Update 2/16/13: Mashable published an interesting article regarding how Facebook profiles and digital identities are handled after death that is worth a read. Find the article here.