What Happens To Your Social Network Profiles When You Die?

iPhone headstone

Source: static.arstechnica.net

Recently a good friend and business colleague of mine passed away following a heart attack. Help came for him too late.

He was only in his 40’s. We were all very saddened by his sudden death having lost a close friend and colleague.

To my big dismay his profile is still on LinkedIn.com. I had written several times to the company but his profile is still alive.

This made me think that we have no accepted procedures to deal with social media profiles, email accounts etc. when someone dies. It should become a simple, secure and (for relatives and friends) easy to follow chain of steps to either delete accounts or mark them as memorialized.

Since I was sure that I would not be the first to stumble upon this issue I spent a few hours on researching the subject. There are quite a number of memorial sites (virtual cemeteries) where people can post obituaries but this does not solve the issue described above. I found some articles discussing the issue. I am enclosing some quotes from these articles.

A social network diagram

Social Network Diagram. Image via Wikipedia

“Millions of Facebook, Twitter, Flicker, WordPress and other social users die every year — but what happens to their social accounts? Unfortunately nothing happens. Most parents can hardly handle checking their own email accounts let alone managing a multi-level blog/forum account.

“It’s a growing problem for social-networking sites and often more so for the eFriends and relatives left behind. Some social network site like LinkedIn have auto reminders to “reconnect” or to “confirm connection” that is sometimes sent from a deceased friend or relative’s account automatically.  Some social sites might auto-delete a dead persons account and this too can add have a negative effect on friends and relatives.

“Last year Twitter announced that it had updated its policy so that relatives can choose to delete or archive the accounts with prof that the account holder has died and that the person contacting twitter is directly related.

“Archiving or deleting a social account can prevent digital reminders that may cause pain to friends and family.

Twitter’s policy is a step in the good direction to managing the ‘online-undead’ but some believe it doesn’t go far enough and there is an increased attention on what the bereaved can or can’t do with online accounts of dead ones. For example, Twitter doesn’t allow relatives access to the deceased’s account or allow accounts to be transferred ones they have been notified of the death.

Social Media and Funerals

Source: socialmediadudes.com

The previous paragraphs as well as the numbered lists below are quoted from INPHO. The following passages are quoted from Arstechnica.


Facebook may not have been the first to create a specialized policy for deceased users, but it was one of the highest profile because of the way it handled the issue. Instead of merely agreeing to let a family member take control of the account, the company instead decided to take things a step further and let people turn someone’s account into a memorial.

This is helpful for two reasons. First, it preserves that user’s identity online so that people can come to the page, read about him or her, and leave posts on the Wall in remembrance. To those of us who live our lives online, there’s little more terrifying than the thought of completely disappearing, and we like for our friends who have moved on to stay around online as well.

However, we don’t like to constantly be reminded about that person’s disappearance, so when Facebook converts an account into a memorial, the person in question no longer pops up in Facebook’s friend suggestions (that would be awkward). The person’s profile also automatically becomes private to everyone but confirmed friends, so vandals can’t come by and trash the place without anyone there to clean up. Contact information also gets removed, and no one can log into the account in the future.

In order to do this, family or friends must fill out Facebook’s special contact form and include proof of death (usually a link to an obituary or a news article). Unlike other social networks, Facebook actually allows non-family to perform this task, which is helpful in a situation where the deceased user’s friends are more Internet-savvy than the family. As you can probably tell from our tone in this section, we’re fans of Facebook’s policy.

Blogger, Gmail, Buzz, and anything else tied to a Google account

One benefit to having all of Google’s services tied into the same Google account is that the company’s policies and procedures generally cover everything. Such is the case when a user passes away; Google told that it’s all handled centrally and concerned parties just need to go through the steps once in order to gain access to everything.

Here’s the good news: Google says it won’t delete the blog, Buzzes, or anything at all of the deceased user until someone asks it to.

“We just leave it as is unless someone was able to access it,” a Google spokesperson told Ars. This means that, without any intervention, a friend or family member’s posts will remain online indefinitely.

If you don’t want them to remain, or if you need access to the person’s Gmail account for whatever reason, you must follow the steps outlined in Google’s Help section. Again, you must be a lawful representative of the deceased (which means friends are out) and be able to provide proof of that authority. You must also include proof of death and a full e-mail header from the person in question to show that the person knew and was in contact with you.

After that, Google needs 30 days to process the documents, but notes that a “valid third party court order or other appropriate legal process” will get you access sooner.

In this case, we can understand why Google would have strict guidelines on who can access the account—this isn’t just someone’s social networking profile, it’s access to his or her e-mail, contacts, and everything else associated with a Google account.

Previous paragraphs from Arstechnica

How to Manage a Dead Relatives Social Network

1. Gather copies of  death records, online death statements and related information that you may need to identify that your relative has passed away.

2. Contact, via email but do not send sensitive information yet, customer service for the social sites. Google may be a bit tricky as they don’t usually offer email customer service. Explain your situation professionally and indicate what you wish to accomplish.

3.  Provide necessary information ones it’s requested.

4. After you have access consider posting necessary information to inform users of the situation such as a copy of a memorial flyer ect. If you are instructed that the account will have to be deleted, politely insist on your behalf. As most social sites are free, threatening to sue my not work in  your favor.

If you feel this is not enough consider create a blog in memory of your relative and post their story and social network screen names so that you can others can control or research your loved one.

How to Manage Your Social Network Portfolio in Case of Death

1. Consider compiling a hard copy of your online profiles with links, screen names, passwords and what you would wish to happen to your social accounts incase.


Source: beobachter.ch

2. Leave this hard copy with your will, an attorney or in care of a trusted family member. If you decide to include your bank login information, please take extra care in guarding against this information being lost or used without your permission.

(end quote)

Even Outside Social Media the Issue Persists

What should I do with the entries of deceased colleagues in my address book? Neither Outlook nor Apple Address Book nor any other contact app has provisions to mark someone as “in memoriam.” Which information should one keep? Should I delete the address or the phone number? I mark the fact that someone died with a cross behind the name. But this is clumsy.

I understand that we in the IT industry as predominantly young people don’t (like to) think about death.

But are we — by neglecting the limited time of our existence — creating our own “Year 2000” issue?

About Hellmuth Broda

Independent Information and Communications Technology Strategist with an interest in the construction sites between business, society and technology. http://www.hellmuthbroda.com
This entry was posted in Identity Management, Social Media, Web and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to What Happens To Your Social Network Profiles When You Die?

  1. Interesting article – but if Im dead, does this really matter to me ? People knowing me personally will get the information on other channels. And if my twitter accounts survives… who cares ?

    I could leave a list of accounts and password for my relatives as last wish… but to be honest, I dont take myself important enough 🙂


  2. Thilo
    I agree when looking at the issue from a personal angle. I also would not care less. I rather think about the view from all the others. They get frustrated sending messages and get no replies, they want to connect and get no answer.
    I think it is about managing the life cycle here (no pun intended).

  3. And let’s not forget: Some of the social media networks send out invites periodically and automatically (e.g. in my experience Plaxo, although they deny doing so).
    What a bummer when you get an invitation from someone who died a month ago!

  4. Pingback: What Happens To Your Social Netw… « oracle fusion identity

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