Death, taxes and social media


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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