What happens to all my social networking information when I die?

Facebook After Death

The Canadian government's concerns over user privacy helped shape Facebook's policies on memorial accounts.
The Canadian government's concerns over user privacy helped shape Facebook's policies on memorial accounts.
AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Seal Kilpatrick

Facebook instituted a policy a few years ago regarding how to handle the profiles of deceased individuals. Family members could choose one of two options: close the account -- Facebook will delete an account permanently upon the family's request -- or converting the account into a memorial profile. Facebook's policy states the company will never release login information to anyone other than the account holder, even after death [source: Facebook].

Before making any changes, Facebook requires proof that the user has died. First, someone must use an online form to report the user's demise. Within that form is a space to include a link to an obituary or news report confirming the death. Facebook employees then review the user's profile to verify there has been no recent activity. Only then will the company begin the conversion process.

A profile undergoes several changes when switching into a memorial. Facebook removes sensitive information from the profile. This includes contact information and addresses. The company also removes status updates to protect the privacy of the deceased user.

Facebook changes the profile settings so that only friends can find the profile and post information to the user's wall. This lets other members visit the profile and use it as a place of grieving and healing while preventing digital vandalism from trolls. Searches for the deceased user on Facebook's search engine will not list the memorial page.

The company will also deactivate the user's login information. This prevents anyone from guessing the user's password and logging in to cause mischief.

If no one contacts Facebook to alert the company of the user's passing, his or her profile will remain active indefinitely. Facebook doesn't delete inactive accounts without notification. Depending upon the user's privacy settings, people will still be able to search and visit the profile and leave comments.

Not every site has established a policy for dealing with death. Some will obey whatever the family wishes as long as the company receives proof of the user's passing. A few won't take any action without a copy of a death certificate. Other companies won't make any changes at all. But as the issue pops up, more online social networks are adopting rules to handle the situation.

Next, we'll look at a few things you can do to make it easier for your family to handle your online presence after you die.