What Happens (Online) When We Die: Twitter

What Happens (Online) When We Die: Twitter

One day, you’re going to die. And when you do, you online presence – like your social network profiles, your blog comments, and your web services – will serve as your very first memorial. Here’s how it’ll play out.

Twitter is supposed to let people share their lives in something close to real time, so it’s especially jarring to come across a deceased Twitter users’ feed. The service is used often enough by some so as to give a haunting look at a person’s last days, but the Twitter feeds of most deceased people, for obvious reasons, just kind of… stop. Here’s what can happen to them after you pass:

Nothing: Though Twitter is awfully hard to get in touch with, their behaviour suggests that they don’t actively hunt for dead Twitterer’s accounts. There are a number of ways for an account to end up deleted (more on that later), but Twitter actively looking for and closing accounts of the recently deceased isn’t one of them.

Requested deletion: As with Facebook, Twitter does seem to have some provision to allow family members to delete accounts, but their policies aren’t at all public. Blogger Daniel Howe did manage to coax a response out of the company a few months back:

As per Twitter’s Privacy Policy, they cannot disclose account information or passwords to anyone, even after you die. That means that your next of kin won’t have access to your direct messages and they wont be able to send out a message to inform your followers.

Twitter will remove the account for you though, if requested. A family member needs to fax or post a copy of the death certificate in to Twitter along with the Twitter user name of the person who died.

The closest thing I can find to a contact email is here. Likewise, this is probably a good place to start if you want to get a little more lawyerly about things, and request more info than Twitter’s Privacy Policy typically allows. (For example, in cases where a crime is involved. But really, consult an attorney.)

The slow fade: From Twitter’s support pages:

An account is considered inactive if it hasn’t been logged into or updated in over 6 months. Inactive accounts may be automatically removed from Twitter. To keep your account active, be sure to log in and post an update within 6 months of your last update

Twitter doesn’t have a specific policy posted for deceased users, but their accounts will be treated like anyone else’s: after six months of inactivity, they’ll just go away. If preserving, rather than removing, an online legacy is your concern, you should probably start archiving. Here are 10 ways to archive tweets, a handful of which are useful for saving a single feed in its entirety.

Residuals: Twitter feeds get picked up and aggregated all over the place, especially if the deceased was prolific or popular. There’s really not much anyone can do about this beyond contacting the sites rehosting the Tweets individually. There’s a good chance Google’s cached them as well, which you can sometimes remedy.

A family plan: As with any other online service, you can write yourself a will of sorts. Entrust a family member or spouse with your login info and instruction as to what to do with your profile. It might make for an awkward conversation now, but it’ll be worth it. Just don’t forget to update your will every time you change your password.

So, that’s what could happen to your Twitter after you’ve passed on, or, what you can do if a friend or family member has done the same. Any more info, or experience? Let everyone know in the comments.

Memory [Forever] is our week-long consideration of what it really means when our memories, encoded in bits, flow in a million directions and might truly live forever.