What Happens to Your Facebook When You Die?

There’s a moment in the book The Fault In Our Stars, when cancer patient Hazel Grace gazes at a recently deceased classmate’s Facebook wall and scans the long list of condolences there. This happens in a book that everyone has read and no one thought it was weird because afterlife Facebook pages have become normal and expected, a 21st century part of life: when a loved one passes away, their social media presence lives on.

Recently, a team of number-crunchers at WebpageFX turned up little-known (and sometimes chilling) facts about our social media afterlife’s, well, second life. First, the basics: Most social media websites—including Pinterest, LinkedIn and Facebook—will leave a deceased user’s page “active” unless either a) a direct family member makes a formal request, and is able to provide proof of their relationship, or b) somebody files a court order. Only Twitter begins to dismantle accounts after they’re inactive for more than six months. Facebook does allow users to “memorialize” a friend’s page after they’ve passed—meaning much of the deceased’s data will remain (“likes,” notes), but current users won’t be able to tag them in images and statuses anymore.

But here’s where our collective Facebook future gets weird:

If Facebook stops growing, its living users will be in the minority come 2065. Facebook will become an online graveyard of cheerful pics and breezy statuses and talk about pets and food. Guys, it will be weird.

A few years ago, I learned of an old high school friend’s death via Facebook and, though we hadn’t been close in a long time, something about this delivery system was deeply unsettling. I remember going to his wall to confirm this horrible fact and being thrown by all the “RIPs” listed in a space typically reserved for funny links and “Happy Birthdays!” Learning about a tragedy—and then continuing to acknowledge it, on the Internet—felt, for me, like a disingenuous way to show feelings. On the one hand, it’s great to be able to think of the dearly departed as not so far away after all. It’s also nice to have a place where people across the Internet can come together and grieve. But on the flip side, it’s not a terrible idea to give a little thought to your own Facebook footprints. Do you want your friends to gather around all of your data when you’re gone? It’s something to consider at a time when privacy is a thing of the past.

These days, plenty of services are cropping up for those who want (or DON’T want…) a digital voice from beyond the grave.

Last year, Google launched a feature called the “Inactive Account Manager,” which allows users to decide on an expiration date for all of their data. Alternately, one can arrange to have a loved one take charge of their content should something go wrong. Here’s the breakdown:

For the more control-freakish, there are several services that’ll let you manage you postmortem accounts, effectively POSTING CONTENT FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (insert ghostly “OoooOOOoooo” here). DeadSocial, a start-up, allows users to entrust six very close friends with their entire digital footprint after they die. These confidant/administrators can create and schedule your regular posts for Twitter, Facebook and Google+—think eternal “HBD!”s for loved ones left behind.

If you want to remain even more digitally present from the netherworld, the options get even more creative. The Tweet Hereafter will memorialize one’s last Tweets, creating a kind of shrine for all those 140 character-profundities uttered in life. A new service called LivesOn will continue a steady stream of “your” tweets after your death—you’ll have to spend a lot of being-alive time teaching the robot your likes, interests and writing style so it can effectively “sound like you.”

And for those who hope to fade away quietly, there are services like Perpetu, which let you plan for your “Internet assets” to be locked to the public upon their death. Though some of this site’s capabilities might change as Internet privacy laws evolve, currently, you can cede control of any social media account to a trusted executor. So your Facebook, say, could disappear as soon as you do. Sites like AssetLock and Password Box also allow users to leave passwords to family members, so no one has to jump through legal hoops to get control of a deceased person’s web content.

These are the freaky-deeky times we live in, people! But for the sake of all those angsty teenage MySpace pages languishing in cyberspace and all those Facebook pics you never wanted your employers to see, let alone your parents—it might be worth considering the day when you no longer have control over your digital footprint. But in the meantime, may you Tweet and poke and Gchat for many, many days to come.

(Infographics via WebpageFX and Digital Trends. Featured Image via)

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