Digital Death – What Happens To Your Online Presence When You Die?



Posted on
March 8, 2012

Author Follow Me






You’re on Facebook. You’re regularly tweeting. You’re connecting through LinkedIn. Life, in this day and age, is largely digitalised. So, is death really the end?

Digital death is an ever-growing topic of discussion worldwide, which focuses on what we leave behind in the digital realm once we’re six feet under (or otherwise).

There’s no denying us humans are a diverse bunch. With so many varying opinions about what should happen to our digital selves when we die, a number of options need to be available; ranging from those who simply want to disappear, to those that want to tweet from beyond the grave.

There are a few big things to consider with respect to digital death.

Privacy. That’s why we have passwords, right?

As an online community, we protect our privacy to varying degrees; we’re given options about how much we share and who we share with. This issue forces us to ask the question: when I die, do I want to sustain my privacy? Do you want anyone digging through your dirty Facebook laundry or personal emails? Or perhaps you would like to nominate a loved one to access your accounts for following up personal matters or contacting your friends.

Access. They’ve got to open it to close it.

In order for your account to be disabled, these details will need to be left with a trusted friend/family member. Even then, for Facebook profiles, no profile is ever completely deleted. Once deactivated, Facebook will keep a copy of all information archived.

Legacy. Ouija board or keyboard?

Maybe you want to live on in a digital sense – so who will carry on posting in your name? Will the tone of voice, style and general manner of interaction reflect your own when nominated person/people take over?

The various deceased policies of social media sites you may use include:

  • Twitter. A family member or friend must provide the username of the deceased (or a link to the profile page) and a link to a public obituary or news article. Your account will be removed and family members may also save a backup of public tweets. The name of the family member/friend deactivating the account must be provided. privacy@twitter.com is the designated contact point for this process.
  • Facebook. Your nominated family member/friend will need to know your login details to access your account and deactivate it. Facebook has a handy feature where all of your photos, videos, posts, notes, messages, events and friends can be downloaded, which can assist in managing a deceased account. As mentioned, a deactivated Facebook profile does not mean everything disappears; Facebook retain a copy of the contents of your profile. Currently, there is no way to permanently delete a profile. Your profile can also be ‘memorialised’ when a form is completed by a relative/friend; your profile will become an online memorial, however, you will not show up in Facebook suggestions or news feeds.
  • MySpace. If MySpace are sent proof of death they will cancel a deceased user’s account.
  • LinkedIn. LinkedIn will close your account if they receive confirmation of your death.
  • YouTube. YouTube allows your heir, or power of attorney, control of your account and all content.
  • Google + and Gmail. Google will provide account information to family members at their discretion.
  • Yahoo and Flickr. These two sites (Flickr is owned by Yahoo) strict policies around digital death. Upon receipt of a death certificate, accounts are deleted, including all their content so that no one can access these but the account holder.
  • Hotmail. Hotmail will close the account upon request and will also send your stored emails and contacts to your relative/friend to help them notify your contacts of your death.
  • eBay. An account will be closed and deleted from the eBay database when a faxed copy of your death certificate has been received. They may also need to to call and verify account information.
  • PayPal. After viewing a death certificate, PayPal will close an account. Any funds left in the account will be issued in the name of the account holder.
  • Match.com. The deceased account will be blocked so that it is no longer visible on the site. To retrieve account information, your power of attorney must contact Match.com.
  • eHarmony.com. Until your power of attorney or family member makes contact with eHarmony.com, the account remains open. No third party can access your account at any time. eHarmony will then close the account.

There are no uniform policies in place around digital death. While the world awaits the lawmakers to cement legislation around digital death, the online conversation and awareness-raising is booming.

So I guess the big question is; when is it time to log out?

Find out more about Digital Death here.

View video ‘Digital Death – What Happens Online When You Die’ video here.


  • Justin

    That was a great read. If I die with my facebook profile hanging in the digital world, I hope it’s left with a sensible default photo.

  • John

    We do hate to talk about death, but you have taken it to new level now

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