Digital life and death

What social media platforms do when users pass away, and what you should do to safeguard your digital data.
Instagram is similar to Facebook but does not have Legacy Contract.(Shutterstock)
Instagram is similar to Facebook but does not have Legacy Contract.(Shutterstock)
Updated on Aug 16, 2020 11:07 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | By Jamal Shaikh

Have you ever asked yourself whether you should unfollow a celebrity now that (s)he is no more? What about a friend who has passed away?

Most of us continue to follow the friend’s account out of respect; a close relative sometimes takes it over and chooses to announce the news, and sometimes, continues to keep it alive.

We asked one of the world’s leading social media scientists, Sree Sreenivasan, some questions to get clarity. His advice: Look forward, not at what has passed. And create a digital will!

“The big tech companies do not have uniform approaches to what happens to your photos and your data after you die,” says Sreenivasan. “Google is the gold standard, which lets you create an ‘inactive account plan’ via the Inactive Account Manager − you can select upto 10 people who have access to your account after three to 18 months of inactivity. You can designate which parts of your Google life particular people can access to download, say, your photos, email etc.”

Sreenivasan knows social media. After serving as Chief Digital Officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and at Columbia University, Sreenivasan is currently a Marshall Loeb Visiting Professor of Digital Innovation at Stony Brook University in New York, and co-founder of the Digimentors Consultancy.

“A digital will is a document that explains what you want to do with your digital data, just as you would with your physical assets” -Sree Sreenivasan, Social media expert

Sreenivasan then talks about other social media platforms. “Facebook’s Legacy Contact tool is terrific. I make three requests to all,” he says. “One. Please explore this. Two. Please warn your designee before you add them to the system, otherwise they may think you’re dying now. And three. Don’t make me your FB Legacy Contact, I’m already full up!”

Instagram, we discover, is similar to Facebook, but does not have a “legacy contract”. As per the tech website Kim Komando, your family can request the deletion of your account, or have it “memorialised”. (Please see box with actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s memorialised Instagram account). “Instagram does require proof that you’ve passed away first. This could be a link to an obituary, news article or a death certificate,” say experts.

Twitter recently faced a backlash when it announced it would delete inactive accounts, then decided that it would work on an appropriate method of memorialising those belonging to people who have died.

What is a digital will? Sreenivasan explains, “It’s simply a document that explains what you want to do with your digital data, just as you would with your physical assets.”

As a user, should one continue to follow the social media account of a deceased celebrity? “I can’t see why you would, unless their family or foundation decides to continue posting,” says Sreenivasan.

And what about social media accounts of our friends and relatives who pass away? 

“I wouldn’t follow them,” he says. “Instead, invest your time and energy in telling friends and relatives about the tips at the top of this article!”

Also see: On social media, should you unfollow the deceased?

From HT Brunch, August 16, 2020

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Sunday, October 24, 2021