How to Manage Your Digital Afterlife

by Laurie Ulster
Originally Published: 

When we get older, and especially when we become parents, we write wills. We make arrangements for our possessions, our money, and our secrets. My mother kept a diary for decades, locked in a strongbox, and left instructions that it was to be destroyed. We didn’t want to follow those instructions, but we did, because that’s what she wanted.

Social media is no different, not anymore. What happens to your Facebook account after you die? If you haven’t left your password with someone, can they lobby Facebook for access? Right now, the answer is no. But you can set something up ahead of time by designating a “legacy contact” who will take care of your account if something happens to you.

The legacy contact will have some limits. They can’t log into your account, change things on your Timeline, read your messages, or remove any of your friends. What they can do is change your profile picture, pin a post to let people know what happened to you, and respond to new friend requests. But for that to happen, you have to have already left instructions with Facebook about what you’d like done with your account: You can have it memorialized, or you can have it permanently deleted.

If you want to give someone access to your account completely, you’ll have to do that unofficially, as Facebook frowns on that even while you’re still alive and well.

Google also has something in place called the “Inactive Account Manager.” (Even they admit it’s not a great name.) There are a bunch of variables there that you can set up in terms of how long your account is inactive, who should get notified when it is, and what they have the ability to do.

Twitter doesn’t give you the option to set up anything in advance, but they have a policy for your family members who want to deactivate your account. Instagram’s policy is similarly minimal.

Here’s the bottom line: You’re going to have to figure all this stuff out, beyond the policies offered up by each social media network, and it’s time to start taking it as seriously as your more tangible possessions. If you want someone to have access to your photos and posts, you’ll have to plan for it.

One more thing to add to the grown-up list.

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