Death and Social Media

In the next couple months, the cycle of life and death in one of our experiments comes to a close, and the autopsies of the monkeys in said experiment begin. These monkeys were born to be experimented on; they have no Facebook, no twitter, no email accounts, and will leave no legacy to their name. When they die, their bodies are swept away into a hazmat bag, their brains studied, and eventually discarded as well. No one will remember them by much more than their number, if that. It made me wonder about what happens to us when we die.

No, not the afterlife, there’s no real point speculating about that, we’ll never actually know until we die. I mean what happens to our social media identities when we pass on. My freshman year of college a guy I had maybe spoke two words to in high school was struck by lightning while surfing and died. To this day, I still see his picture in my right hand corner of Facebook every once in a while suggesting that I “friend” him. A guy in a fraternity here at UMD died a few weeks ago; I don’t follow him but my friends mention him every once in a while saying how much they miss him. His profile is public, and his most recent tweet was “fuckin cards, brings back bad memories.” It’s hard to imagine that’s how he wants to be remembered.

I did some research and I found out that there are several options when it comes to dealing with your social media outlets after death, but all of them involve the assistance of close relatives. Provided they can present proof, Facebook allows you to either delete or memorialize your page when you’re gone. Once memorialized, your page will no longer be able to be searched or found on the news feed, and won’t be “suggested” to others. Twitter allows your relatives (again, with evidence of your death, such as an obituary) to have an archive of all public tweets, or to just get rid of it entirely. In the case of email, some sites, such as Gmail, will allow a friend or relative to deactivate an accout, while Hotmail provides them all the contents of your inbox (none of these sites, however, will give out the username and password). If you’re really worried about the contents of your social media history, you can create a digital will that provides passwords or requests for the fate of your online identity. The question is, how do you want to be remembered? Memorialized in the world of bits… or deleted for good?


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