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What happens with a deceased person's social media accounts?

By Kristjan-Paul Raude

In today's social media there has come up situations where users, although they are dead, live on virtually. This has happened due to the complexity of an account deletion and transposition meanwhile causing unnecessary pain for the loved ones.

Who owns the information we leave behind in social media?

This has been a point of dispute for some time. The regulations state that the users must be able to access their own information and have the right to manage it on their lifetime. International laws have failed to regulate what happens with possessing information and account access when the owner dies.

How to erase the social media account after the death of the user?

• There is a global intellectual property law for writings where the heirs have the right to possess the content for another 60 years after the death of the author. • The problem is with online content as law does not regulate the management of intellectual property on the Internet after the death of an author. • Thereof the account management and deleting is extremely difficult or even impossible for the loved ones.

Facebook used to automatically delete account after a month when the user was declared dead. On demand of users request Facebook created memorial function. Nevertheless, it is believed that Facebook has over 30 million dead accounts.

Important rules:
• In order to protect the privacy of the deceased person Facebook has created memorization pages. • Facebook does not give away holder ID or password, but asks to contact via a memorialization request. • To delete the deceased person’s account an identified loved ones have to make a request to Facebook. Identified means that Facebook needs a dead person's birth or death certificates submitted by the person who is identified by the notary. • If you want to possess the deceased person’s account profile and information you need to have a notarial document and fulfill an application on Facebook's website. In addition, Facebook notes that the submission of an application does not guarantee that your request is satisfied.

Memorization page

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Twitter makes account deletion easier but it is still necessary to have a notarial document that proves your relation with the deceased one. Twitter provides an opportunity to close the account and all the information will be automatically deleted.

Required information for account deletion:

• The username of the deceased user's Twitter account (e.g., @username or • A copy of the deceased user’s death certificate • A copy of your government-issued ID (e.g., driver’s license) • A signed statement by notary

• LinkedIn expects that the account will be shut down, however LinkedIn maintains the right to use the account data. To delete the account you need to contact the customer service and fill in a specific application. • The application can be signed digitally and it will be automatically sent to LinkedIn customer service and a copy to the applier. To submit the application you need to know the person’s LinkedIn registration e-mail, otherwise the application will be rejected.

Google has different services that are all connected with each other. Deleting Google account results in deleting all related account. It is possible to delete only Google+ account via Gmail customer service.

Two part scheme (Part one):
Google expect to have: • full name, • physical mailing address, • e-mail address, • a photocopy of the government-issued ID or the driver’s license, • the Gmail address • and the death certificate of the deceased person. If the document is not in English it should have certified English translation that has been prepared by a competent translator and notarized.

Two part scheme (Part two):
• If Google decides that the first part was done correctly, they will ask additional information, like legal documents, including an order from a U.S. court and/or additional materials. When the paperwork is successfully done it is possible to get an access to the account or shut down all Google services including Google +.

• Each social media environment has different solution for the problem. However, the common thread that is needed is a signed document from loved ones and a death certificate of the deceased person. • The difference arises from the fact that some environments provide access to the account, others delete it or retain the right to use account information. The law does not set the rules for Internet intellectual property as an inheritance.

No right solution!
• There are two ways to make it less harmful for relatives. Either to let them decide what happens with social media accounts of the deceased person or let each person set the settings while they are alive. • There is no one rule or a right solution across all social media accounts. It is clear that when technology keeps such a fast development, opportunities and environments change, but mourning psychologically remains the same. People need time and environment in which to grieve and to say what left unsaid.

About the author

Kristjan-Paul Raude
WSI Online Managing partner E-mail: