Whether we wish it or not, digitalization became an integral part of our life. Oftentimes, our physical and digital selves have become inseparable.
Although our life span is limited, our social media accounts continue to exist in the digital space after our death. Photos, posts, videos we shared, music we uploaded… they all stay on our social media pages. Just like the digital diary, our digital content is dear to us.
Social media are not something new anymore: most of us are their active users for 10 years or more. As time goes by, there are more and more users passing away, causing an unavoidable process internet companies need to face. And the issue will become only more thorny in the future decades.
While account would not be removed in most cases after the owner’s decease, they become a digital space to commemorate our loved ones.
Here’s a look at how the most popular social media platforms deal with the death of their users.
Facebook became one of the first social media platforms to start memorialization of passed away users’ profiles back in 2009, while coming up with their closed to the nowadays version in 2015.
Facebook has an option of converting an account of deceased into a memorial one to commemorate the memory of the person. The family of the user or the close friend could report to Facebook the death of their loved one. After confirmation, the account’s login function will be disabled and next to the profile of the user a special mark will be added. User’s page will no longer appear in other users’ suggestions and the button “Friend to add” will be deleted as well.
Family members of the passed away person can also choose to delete the Facebook account instead of turning it into memorialized profile. To do so, the close relatives need to provide a birth and a death certificate in order to prove that they are the legal representatives of the user.
Instagram boasts over 1 billion active monthly users. After being acquired by Facebook, some of the app’s functions became very similar to its parent company’s app. Currently, Instagram offers the memorialization of deceased users. Family members need to provide the death certificate, then the user’s profile will be changed to an obituary’s link or a website’s link. The account settings cannot be reversed once the account is turned into memorial one. Such an Instagram account will have the word "Remembering" next to the person's name. Deceased user’s photos, posts, stories will remain visible for the same audience as it was open to in the private settings.
Instagram’s work on new memorialization features was speeded up by the beginning of the COVID-10 pandemic in 2020. These efforts aim to help commemorating and paying tributes to those who left us because of the virus.
In December last year, Twitter has announced its plans to create a new type of memorialized accounts left after their users’ passing. Up to now, Twitter only had two options: either family members requested the removal of a deceased user's account or the profile would stay active. There were no other options for the platform.
The actions for memorialization were pushed by the Twitter’s announcement to delete the inactive profiles of the users in the EU. It provoked the public concerns over the fact that accounts of passed away family members and friends – those dear to us – would be deleted too.
After the incident, Twitter declared that tweets of the deceased users are valuable for the platform and their accounts are ways to remember a person and pay tributes. Family and friends can go through the photos, posts and videos the user shared and remember their good old days together.
The biggest online professional network in the world announced its plans to introduce its own solution to commemorate deceased users’ pages last year, saying that LinkedIn won’t be deleting the accounts, but would mark the them as memorial ones by a special mark. The feature was launched this year.
LinkedIn followed the examples by Facebook and Instagram. Close relatives of the user can claim to memorialize or close deceased person’s account, while if the person isn’t authorized, he/she can only report a member as deceased. Once an account is memorialized, access to the account is locked.
As YouTube is linked to a user’s Google account, profile’s owner is able to set a time since when his/her account would become inactive.
Family of the passed away youtuber can either close the account, obtain data from the account or request for the funds. The same rules apply for the channels of YouTube stars after they pass away. The creations uploaded to YouTube channel owners could become “a museum of a great person, no longer a channel”, as one of the Philippines fans commented after his favorite YouTube star’s sudden death.
The biggest Chinese social app, WeChat’ users number reaches more than 600 million with 500 million in China and 100 million users abroad. Such huge numbers led Tencent, WeChat developer, to seek solutions on how to deal with memorialization of the passed away users very early before.
Family members contacting WeChat Support on how to inherit their passed relative account
In the case of a user's death, the user's family members need to provide the documentation and get the approval from WeChat’s parent company Tencent. After that family of the passed away user can still use a WeChat account on behalf of their beloved one to commemorate their time together.
In March 2019, Tencent applied for a patent license called “Information processing methods and digital asset certificate inheritance transfer”. It allows users to transfer their digital inheritance to their heirs after they pass away.
The page of Tencent’s patent application
As young people in China are the most digitalized generation, they are thinking about their inheritance in the digital space as well. Chat records, call records, messages in QQ, posts in Weibo, WeChat moments – for the young users in China it is what all people have legacy for and it shouldn’t disappear or be deleted.