We’re well used to thinking about what should happen to the physical things we will leave behind when we are gone. From homes to personal keepsakes, people are very familiar with idea of a preparing a will that states how their property will be distributed after their passing.
But what about what you leave behind in the virtual world?
Facebook, with almost 2 billion users worldwide, will be used regularly by 32.5 million people in the UK next year, according to the statistics portal Statista. That means almost half the UK population has a Facebook account. Based on Facebook’s user statistics in 2018, researchers have predicted the number of dead users could reach at least 1.4 billion or potentially as high as 4.9 billion by the end of the century.
Add in our profiles on all the other social media platforms, from Pinterest to Twitter, and that’s a huge digital legacy for the people of the UK to leave behind.
“Who can access your account, emails, photo albums, music files, who gets the passwords, what happens to all your images and videos?” asks Dr Mark Traubert, a palliative care doctor and expert in social media and end of life planning. He makes the point that a well prepared social media presence could last long into the future and be a way for your ancestors to connect with their past. But he advises having a Social Media Will to specify your wishes for your online profiles after you die. This avoids arguments between family members, some of whom may want your accounts deleted, other who may want them kept as a form of memorial.
Dr. Taubert is on the advisory board of ‘DeadSocial’ a free service that lets you write and schedule messages that will be pushed to your social media accounts after your death. Users set up a profile, write their messages and appoint an ‘executor’ to tell DeadSocial that you’ve passed and activate your messages. The Deadsocial service has limited enrolment, but does provide advice on digital legacy planning and guides on dealing with specific social media accounts, either ahead of your own death or after the passing of a loved one.
Not having a properly planned digital legacy can cause your family upset. Automated messages sent around birthdays or anniversaries are one of the most obvious examples of emotional upset, but continuing subscriptions to music or movie services can also cause financial stress.
Stopping ongoing activity is important, but so is preserving your digital assets. Those that could be lost or destroyed without a plan in place include photos and videos, mementoes that your family will never be able to replace.
One of the biggest challenges for your family will be knowing exactly what accounts you have and how to access them. Preparing a list of your accounts is a very important starting point which can be added to your ‘Rest in Peace’ folder. List web addresses and usernames but keep the passwords separately, maybe with a family member.
Beyond drawing up your list, start thinking about how you want to be remembered online, do you want your full profiles to outlive you, do you want to leave behind just one last Tweet, or do you want to disappear altogether. All are possible, but they’ll all need some planning.