Death, taxes and social media

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eternally-retweeted

This one’s going to be morbid, so, if you’re of the sunny disposition kind, look away now.

I have had the concept of digital-life after death on my mind since a recent 27Dinner evening where some of South Africa’s top Instgrammers – or ‘igers’ – as they are referred to in their native tongue, discussed the platform and success stories. The panel spoke about the accumulation of beauty and documentation of the world around them , so naturally I had to ask:

“What happens to your Instagram account when you die?”

To which, I got the expected chuckle and one or two gasps, but seriously… what happens when you die? Have you even thought about what happens to all the content your “Public Profile” has accumulated over the years goes? And when you think about it, does it even matter? Why do it at all?

Sounds like I’m having an existential crisis, doesn’t it? One of the panel speakers eloquently revealed that his business partner would be given a letter with all his social network passwords in it, allowing him full access to shut down, continue, etc. each account on its own merits. Not a bad way to go, I suppose.

Have you considered what the social media afterlife is like for people who pass on? How would you feel? We can all agree that a Facebook profile, a Twitter account and more so, someone’s Instagram account is an extremely personal thing — a diary of sorts. A place where one’s life has been photographically, emotionally and literally documented for most or all to see – obviously depending on your individual privacy settings.

Let’s say that, at face value and because of the nature of social media, most of us tend to over share on the platforms we hold most dear to us. Now, in the spirit of this over-sharing, is there no way of recapturing that sense of ownership after death? Don’t think me deluded, my concerns are shared – even if you’re not willing to admit it just yet.

Let me throw some numbers your way and see if this strikes any chords;

Can you guess the number of deceased Facebook accounts there are to date? One-million? Five? Ten? Try 30-million in the first eight years of its existence. That’s 312 500 people a month, 10 273 per day or 428 people per hour. Makes your KPIs seem meaningless, doesn’t it? I can’t imagine the numbers for Twitter, but because of how quickly the platform has scaled in less years, I’m guessing the numbers are probably quite similar.

To get onto the technical stuff regarding digital-life after death, there are a few things that one needs to take into consideration when thinking of using the tools and services I’m about to describe:

  1. This isn’t for everyone
  2. Digital is agnostic
  3. The internet is unforgiving

Got it? Good.

Recently, Yahoo released a service called Yahoo Ending to its Japanese users. The service enables users to close their Yahoo Japan account, and have a final message sent to up to 200 pre-registered email addresses of family and friends, once their death has been confirmed, of course. Might be a little strange getting a message from a friend who’s sitting across the dinner table from you.

Facebook came to party in February of this year, amending their privacy policies and after confirmed family members have confirmed the death of a loved one, they have the ability to create a Memorial Video of the deceased to be shared. Sweet and somewhat self-cannibalizing, if you ask me.

Google has what is called an Inactive Account Manager, which lets users automatically delete their account after a set time-out period. Some people I know have multiple Google Accounts, and this could prove problematic if you happen to forget one.

Twitter on the other hand claims to delete “Inactive Accounts” after usage and login activity read zero for 6 months, which I find hard to believe because a Twitter account I want for personal use has not tweeted in almost four years.

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  • http://twitter.com/mattyswan Matt Swan

    Dave, this is an interesting Question. Something I have thought about
    regularly – but from a slightly different angle. We live in an ever
    growing world full of special and unique people, right? However, many of
    us have the same name or have thought up our own original ‘handle’ –
    which someone else may also have thought up. To get to the point, I
    wonder if someday the original simple handles, such as simple
    @DavidAlves for example, may become valuable, assuming of course that
    Twitter and or whatever other social media last for 20 years or more, as
    more Dave Alves enter the world and would rather not go around using
    the handle @DaveAlves1213454587 … You get my drift? Perhaps one day
    your social accounts, and the potential gravitas or influence they may
    own, will have a monetary value – thus meaning you have not wasted half
    your life on social media after all.

  • David_Alves

    Ola Matty, thanks for the comment, pal. I appreciate you having a read. I think we’re inherently speaking about two different things here. My comment about my handle was made to simply demonstrate the unreliability of certain networks expiry on “digital property”, as it may. You make a good point though. I think as time goes on, digital real estate will grow to be as popular as private possessions, the only problem being – the law. Hyper Twitter users saw the potential in Twitter in it’s first year and registered as many high profiled Twitter handles as they could, thinking they would be able to eventually “cash-in” when the corporates came to roost. Unfortunately that was not the case. Due to privacy and trademark orientated business diplomacy, networks like Twitter had more to gain by having corporates join the fray and thus allowed for “Legal Representation Documents” to be submitted by them to acquired their handles without needing to bid for them from those who – lawfully and legally – registered them in the first place. It’s an interesting debate to say the least. Thanks again, bru.

  • http://twitter.com/mattyswan Matt Swan

    Hey Dude, no worries, always a please to read your musings buddy and thank you for your response. Cheers for pointing me at the Hyper Twitter case, I had not heard about that. Very interesting indeed and nice to hear they are attempting to safe-guard against ‘handle-parking’ – unlike the highly annoying domain-parking which plagues the net. However, I disagree that we are talking about inherently different things – but rather different aspects or potential aspects of the same thing. Truthfully, not everyone is going to have a handle worth money, nor will most people care too much about having a string of numbers after their handle. Much like personalised car registrations, you either care about it or you don’t. But those who do care, whether it be because they are high profile, proud or vain – or whether it is for branding or business purposes, may be willing to pay a high price to wear a particular handle on social media. Hyper Twitter may have attempted to pre-empt the value of certain handles, but I am referring to legitimately ‘owned’ and ‘used’ handles which have inherent or acquired gravitas and could potentially be sold or auctioned off as part of ones estate. It’s an interesting debate indeed, and I am not aware of any real-life examples to date – but I would be willing to bet we could well see one soon…

  • David_Alves

    UGH! I’m so bad at replying to these. Sorry, Matty.

    I love the idea that they could be auctioned off as a part of their estate. What a gnarly notion, man. Wild. Although, thinking about the value of said handle – for example: @TheTweetOfGod handle – a handle that has accumulated almost 1.5m followers on Twitter – would more than likely be passed onto a friend or family member to continue the genius of the account. I guess you could say that the person bequeathed the account would be able to do whatever they want with it, but I think it would cheapen the ‘gravitas’, as you put it, of the account going forward. The account itself is currently cited to belong to David Javerbaum, an American comedy writer and outspoken Atheist. Would be interesting to know what plans he has when the time comes.

    Thanks again for the comment, bru. Appreciate the cerebral riposte.

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