For most people, the idea of creating a will is a morbid, but necessary, task. The details of the document are generally quite mundane – appointing an executor, outlining an estate plan, specifying the extent of advance medical directives – provided that the testator isn’t an eccentric billionaire who leaves millions of dollars to her dog.
Promissory notes, Junior’s college fund, great-granny’s china: check, check, check. It’s a fairly straightforward process. Or, at least it used to be – until social media came along.
What will happen to your Facebook account when you die? How about all of those unanswered emails? Should someone let your Twitter followers know? What about your blog? How will all your digital personas be managed after you kick the bucket?
Enter the social media will – endorsed by none other than the U.S. government.
In an era where individuals have control over a plethora of online identities on a daily basis, planning for a user’s final logout is becoming a complicated affair. As the U.S. government states on its official blog,
Social media is a part of daily life, but what happens to the online content that you created once you die?
If you have social media profiles set up online, you should create a statement of how you would like your online identity to be handled. Just like a traditional will helps your survivors handle your physical belongings, a social media will spells out how you want your online identity to be handled.
Creators of a social media will are urged to appoint an “online executor” who will be responsible for handling all aspects of the deceased’s online presence. The social media will that the executor receives should include directives for how online profiles should be managed (deleting an account vs. creating a memorial profile, for example), and a list of all sites where the deceased has an account along with the passwords for each.
With three Facebook users dying every minute, creating a social media will doesn’t seem like such an outlandish concept. But ensuring that the document is effective isn’t as simple as it may seem.
In addition to legal hurdles that testators might not anticipate, such as the public nature of wills, the sheer impracticality of maintaining an updated list of sites and passwords presents a major challenge to the idea of a social media will. As Naomi Cahn, a professor of law at George Washington University, told The Atlantic’s Rebecca J. Rosen, the average person has 25 password-protected accounts and types about eight passwords a day. That’s quite a trove of data to compile and update whenever a new account is created or password changed.
But logistical challenges can’t – and shouldn’t – be used to dismiss the importance of creating a social media will, whatever form it may take. The average American spends at least an hour a day online, emailing, friending, tweeting, pinning – in short, living. A contingency plan needs to exist for the day when each of us leaves cloud computing for a different sort of cloud.