We’re living in an increasingly digital age, where most people maintain some form of online presence. This may be via maintaining their own personal websites or interacting with social media. Most people interact with social media on a quite mundane level but making a career out of social media is becoming increasingly common. In recent years we’ve seen a rise in ‘Instagram influencers’ and YouTube vloggers who are using their social media accounts to make a substantial revenue. This leads to the question, what happens to my social media accounts when I die? Below we will look at the big four social media platforms and how they can be managed on your death.
Facebook is probably the biggest social media platform in existence, dwarfing Twitter, LinkedIn, and other well-known websites and boasting 2.38 billion monthly active users (Facebook investor relations report 24/04/19). If you’re one of those regular users you’ve probably built up quite a profile, likely filled with pictures, videos, and memories and you need to decide whether you want to share these or delete them forever on your death. Facebook allows a number of options for dealing with a deceased users account.
The first option allows you to plan in lifetime for what will happen to your account on death. You can appoint a ‘Legacy Contact’ to look after your account should you pass away. This Legacy Contact will then have access to your account after your death and manage it in future with a few restrictions. The Legacy Contact may manage your account, memorialise it, post a final status update, and update your profile and cover photos. If you’ve given them permission they can also download a copy of everything you’ve ever shared on Facebook.
What a Legacy Contact can’t do is log into your account, remove or edit any past posts, comments or photos you’ve made, remove friends, or read any of your private messages.
The second option allows you to tell Facebook that you want your account to be permanently deleted on your death. As with assigning a Legacy Contact this can be requested in lifetime through the options in your Facebook account.
The last option is to request that your account is memorialised on your death. If Facebook become aware of your passing and you have not opted to have your account deleted on death, then your page will be memorialised so friends and family can still view your profile and any content you’ve shared.
Firstly, lets address who actually owns the photos you post to Instagram. You own the copyright to any images that you post to Instagram but give them a non-exclusive and royalty free licence to use and distribute the content that you post.
Instagram’s deceased user policies are similar to Facebook’s, which is to be expected as Facebook are its parent company. When you pass away your Instagram account can either be permanently deleted or memorialised. The difference here though is that you can’t plan for this in lifetime, so what happens to your account will be down to your family. What you might want to consider instead is leaving clear instructions in your Will as to what you want to happen to your Instagram account. Your executors or your family can’t be given access to your account, and there is no tool to download all of the content you’ve uploaded to it, but they can be directed to contact Instagram to delete or memorialise it.
Twitter doesn’t have any policies in place for memorialisation or allowing a family member access to your account. All they offer is permanent removal of a deceased users account, and they express that they will work with an individual who is authorised to act on behalf of your estate. Again, you can leave instructions in your Will for your executor to contact Twitter to have your account removed. Twitter will ask for your account username, your full name, the executor’s relationship to you, as well as their full name and email address. They will also need a copy of your executor’s ID and your death certificate before they can close the account.
The video sharing website YouTube attracts millions of users per month, and for dedicated vloggers it can earn them quite a substantial amount of money. Last year the highest earning YouTuber, Ryan ToysReview made $22 million in advertising revenue from his channel! Clearly it’s important that you have plans in place for your YouTube account if it’s producing an income for you.
YouTube are owned by Google, and Google have a similar system in place to Facebook when it comes to allowing you to plan in lifetime for what should happen to your various Google accounts on death. Through your settings in your Google account you may appoint an ‘Inactive Account Manager’. This allows you to appoint a trusted person to be notified when your account has become inactive and give them access to it to manage. When doing this you also have the choice of when your account should be considered inactive and the plan triggered. Google will try to contact you multiple times before passing any details on to your Inactive Account Manager, so they can be sure that you’ve passed away.
If you haven’t assigned an Inactive Account Manager then your immediate family or executors can work with Google to deal with the account. They may request that the account is permanently deleted or that certain data is obtained from the account. They can also request funds from a deceased user’s account, as they may have died leaving funds in their AdSense account that were earned from advertising on YouTube videos.
If you need some advice on how you can manage your digital legacy or if you have a substantial digital estate and need some guidance on how you can deal with this in your Will we recommend contacting a Member of the Society of Will Writers.