Worldwide, there were over 2 billion monthly active Facebook users in June of 2017. The world population is roughly 7.5 billion, which means more than 25% of us are using our Facebook profiles at least monthly. With such a large user base, it makes one wonder what happens to our Facebook profiles when we die?
The short answer is nothing. Unless Facebook is explicitly notified that a death has occurred, your profile will live on forever. If a request to remove or memorialize a decedent's Facebook account is not made, it can present the risk of unauthorized access, and can also create a false sense of life behind a decedent's profile, which can be misleading and emotional.
So what are the options for handling a deceased person's Facebook profile? Removal or memorialization. Removing a decedent’s social media profile means permanently deleting their account, which cannot be undone or recovered. Memorializing a decedent’s social media profile means the account will serve as a place for friends and family to share memories after a person has passed away, and offers security by preventing anyone from logging into the account.
Facebook has dedicated an entire FAQ on their Help Center that addresses common questions related to memorialized accounts, which can be accessed here: https://www.facebook.com/help/1506822589577997/. The key take away is that when a Facebook profile is memorialized, the word "Remembering" appears next to their name, and their profile no longer shows up in public spaces such as in suggestions for People You May Know, ads or birthday reminders.
Facebook and Instagram are the only two social media networks that allow the option to memorialize an account as of the date of this blog post. They are clearly thinking ahead, and are making plans for online life after death. If and when the other social networks introduce a memorialization option, we will write a blog post on it and update our service offering accordingly. If you know a story about a memorialized social media account, please share with our community in the comments section below!
Social media is now an integral part of modern day life. Whether we're checking Facebook for updates on friends and family, connecting with colleagues on LinkedIn for networking, sharing photos on Instagram of our latest adventures, or tweeting thoughts on Twitter with our followers...most of us have at least 1 social media profile. In fact, the average internet user has between 5 and 7 social media accounts. According to Pew Research, only 5% of the American population had a social media profile in 2005 compared to 69% in 2017. That is an astounding rate of adoption that has impacted most of us.
While social media accounts start their life empty and are free to obtain, the more we use them, the more they become an asset or liability that must be managed similar to our physical assets. As it relates to planning, many people are familiar with the idea of estate planning for things such as bank accounts, homes, cars, and material possessions. However, very few of us are considering our online assets such as our social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. These social media profiles have real tangible value from years of sharing photos, videos, and messages with others.
Collectively, we are pioneering a new frontier of technology as we seamlessly merge our physical existence with our digital identities. Naturally, we now must begin to think about how to handle these online profiles after death. News outlets including NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, and FOX among others are covering these stories at an increasing rate, and we've collected just a few of them below to share with our community. We will be expanding this list in the months to come as new stories are published, and old stories are uncovered. If you find other interesting articles, please share in the comments section!
1) How to Delete a Deceased Loved One’s Facebook Page
2) How To Close Online Accounts And Services When Someone Dies
3) What Happens to Your Social Media Profiles When You Die?
4) What will happen to YOUR social media accounts when you die?
5) What happens to all my social networking information when I die?
6) What happens to your social media accounts when you die?
7) What happens to your social media accounts when you die is up to you
 Pew Research Center: http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/social-media/
I'm Evan Mahoney, Founder of Profile Peace. It was November of 2015 when I received news that a close family member passed away unexpectedly. It was devastating to lose a loved one, and my family tried our best to bring closure to the estate. While our family was grieving, we arranged the funeral service, hired an attorney, appointed an executor, and sorted through financial records and material possessions among a myriad of other required tasks. It was a challenge to bring organization and clarity to an otherwise unfortunate situation no one planned for. We thought all estate related matters were dealt with.
However, during this same time period, I was using LinkedIn for work and saw our family member's profile automatically appear as a suggestion for "People You May Know." It startled me and stirred up emotions and memories. I then proceeded to contact the major social networks, provided the required information and documentation, and had her profiles removed successfully. It made me think I can't be the only person dealing with the problem of online identities living on after death. I began to ask questions and connect with others and the similar stories people shared with me were endless. Facebook was reminding friends about birthdays for users that passed away, Twitter profiles lived on long after death, LinkedIn was notifying connections of work anniversaries for deceased employees, Pinterest pages remained live with no living person behind them, Instagram posts continued to receive comments posthumous, and the list goes on...
As friends asked their friends and colleagues shared my experience with others, the network effect had proven that this was a a real problem that needed to be solved at this point in time. Our lives are increasingly connected online and social media is now a natural extension of our physical reality, yet we fail to plan for our digital assets like social media profiles. There has to be a better way, and as technology evolves and progresses, we too must evolve and enhance our tools and planning efforts. From this tragedy emerged a real opportunity to help other families in need, and ProfilePeace was born to help online profiles of the deceased rest in peace.
Do you have a story related to social media profiles of the deceased? Share your story in the comments section.