The Reality of Social Media in Death

Gympie Times, The Qld., September 13, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Reality of Social Media in Death


Byline: RORY SHEAVILS

SOCIAL media permeates every aspect of our lives.

We can chat with friends, share photos and organise events all without ever leaving the comfort of our home.

With a few quick mouse clicks, we have an insight into the lives of hundreds, even thousands, of people all across the globe.

In essence, social media allows us to create a digital estate uniquely our own that can be accessible to almost anyone.

But what happens to a person's social media presence when they aren't around to manage it?

At present, a reported 30 million Facebook accounts belong to people who have died. One day, the number of dead persons' accounts is likely to outstrip the number of people still alive using Facebook.

Many social media providers do not have specific measures in place to address the issue of what to do with accounts once someone has died.

Loved ones or friends who do not have access to the deceased person's passwords are faced with a dilemma. University of the Sunshine Coast senior journalism lecturer and social media commentator Renee Barnes said some social media sites were now offering families options for preserving, or removing, a loved one's profile.

"Twitter deletes accounts after six months of inactivity," she said.

"Facebook has really thought about this, and does provide some good options for the family.

"They allow you to turn a person's Facebook page into a memorial page."

Essentially, memorialising a person's profile freezes their account in time.

The account is locked, preventing anyone from accessing it, while still allowing friends to post tributes to the person's wall.

Additionally, the deceased person's account is only visible to established friends, and doesn't appear in profile searches.

These measures ensure that friends and family are not unexpectedly confronted with the memory of their lost loved one in the process of their daily interactions online.

Sadly, though, these measures have also become necessary due to the rising bane of the online community: trolls.

National StandBy Response Service spokeswomen Jill Fisher said trolls were an unfortunate reality of operating in an online space, and their activity could be highly damaging to those left behind.

"There isn't always the type of monitoring or framework online," she said.

"There are those out there - we still don't know why - who go on social media to emotionally harm others."

Thankfully, these precautions have largely curbed the negative aspects of digital memorialisation.

In many ways, online memorials have come to replace the more traditional methods of remembering a lost loved one - a scrapbook, a family video, an old shoe box full of photos.

Ms Fisher said that this was to be expected, with online tributes being just the latest in a long and varied line of coping methods.

"Our whole approach to death is forever evolving and changing," she said.

"I guess we're just using the new social media forms.

"In the past, you put up a headstone at a cemetery. …

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