If you’re the type of person who has trouble living without social media—and, really, who doesn’t nowadays?—you might be happy to learn that you won’t have to die without it either. With BlackBook’s Chris Mohney estimating that about five million Facebook profiles belong to dead people, both governments and social media companies are scrambling to figure out how to approach the new online graveyard dilemma. Recently, start-ups like DeadSocial and LivesOn are ushering in a new wave of social media that lets you tweet and send Facebook messages from beyond the grave.
LivesOn, set to launch next month, pushes the slogan, “When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting.” The site uses artificial intelligence algorithms to analyze your Twitter feed, collect data about your patterns, tastes, and syntax, which is then used to tweet posthumously. You’ve got to nominate an executor that decides whether or not to keep your account alive. But, if account hacking and drunk tweeting have taught us anything, it’s that no one—not even ourselves—can be trusted with social media accounts.
Dave Bedwood, a creative partner of the UK-based Lean Mean Fighting Machine advertising agency that developed the app, defends their service, saying, “Cryogenics costs a fortune; this is free and I'd bet it will work better than a frozen head,” the Guardian reports.
LivesOn is one of several start-ups specializing in post-mortem social media. Digital Legacys makes metallic QR tags that attach to memorials, headstones, and plaques, to give smartphone users access to online dedications and memorial photo galleries. As if QR codes weren’t already pervasively useless enough and annoying stamped onto every transit and outdoor advertisement, now we get to bring them to our grave.
Then there’s DeadSocial. It lets you send post-obit tweets and Facebook messages out at pre-determined dates, like wedding anniversaries or kids’ birthdays, once or for many years. IfIDie.net also lets people send final Facebook messages to their peeps, and, from the video below, they seem pretty cavalier about it:
So the question becomes, is this the future of finding closure, or, is it a digital crutch that unhealthily delays the grieving process? If we say it’s comforting, then we’re admitting that social media is a huge part of our collective reality and should therefore be included in remembering the dead. But, if we say that it’s a toxic by-product of technology that slows the grieving process down, then we run the risk of being called Luddites.
Facebook’s current policy is to memorialize accounts once their owners have been reported dead. The account is then secured from future log-ins, taken out of public search results, and the family is left to decide whether to pull the account offline or leave it up for people to post their respects.
Determining who is legally entitled to make final decisions about Facebook accounts isn’t so easy though. In Nebraska recently, a widower correctly guessed the password to his estranged dead wife’s Facebook account, only to leave inappropriate messages about her still being alive. Classy. Nebraska state legislators are now considering legislation that will determine who has the right to take control of someone's digital life after death.
I know two people who have died and left their Facebook accounts in limbo. Both times, their pages served as memorials. Which is fine, but strange. Probably because it’s such a new phenomenon. On the one hand, for people who have lost touch with their recently deceased friend or family member, who knows how long it would’ve taken them to hear the sad news without social media? On the other hand, we use Facebook newsfeeds as a way of sharing videos of obese people breaking diving boards, or to post embarrassing photos of our passed out, naked buddies. Is it really appropriate to use the same medium for paying our respects?
It’s tricky. But in any case, post-mortem social media feels like a new and virtual form of cryogenics. And as we blitz toward more invasive and increasingly life-altering technology, who’s to say what’s sacred and what’s not?
All I know is that for my DeadSocial account, I call dibs on fine-tuning the last words of Oscar Wilde for the 21st century: “Either this tweet goes, or I do!”
Greg is alive and tweeting: @GGRPike
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