In the modern age, people are increasingly documenting their lives on social media accounts.
In less than two decades, social media platforms have become, for some, the biggest conglomeration of their thoughts, social network, photos and videos. Photo albums in the attic are no longer the storage spot for cherished memories — Facebook and Instagram are.
So what happens to these accounts when you die? What legal rights do social media platforms have to your content, what legal rights does your family have to your digital content and what access will anyone have to it?
Increasingly, the social media accounts people leave behind become ghostly presences on the internet, but each account is chock full of data, records and media from that person's life, some of which was private or not meant to be shared. What happens to that?
Each social media website has concocted a different response to this 21st century issue.
Facebook takes the privacy of its users very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that when parents of a 15-year old who had committed suicide sought access to his Facebook account, Facebook fought tooth and nail to derail a court order to give the parents access.
Facebook allows three options for each account.
Account holders can designate a “legacy contact” in advance, who can pin a notification to your account, respond to friend requests, change photos and archive your posts and media. Whenever your death is reported to Facebook, your legacy contact will be notified of the actions they can take with your account.
Your account can also be memorialized. The friend or family member who reports your death to Facebook can opt in to memorialization, which freezes your account, hiding it from everyone but your current Facebook friends who can view your profile and leave messages.
Your account can also be deleted entirely, just like when you delete your own profile. Although Facebook retains an archive of all deleted profiles, your information will not be shared with anyone if it is deleted, except for your legacy contact who retains the ability to archive your shared information before deleting it.
Twitter has adopted a similar policy to Facebook. Your private information will not be shared with anyone after your death, but your loved ones or will executors can have Twitter delete your account upon proof of death.
You may also request to have a specific piece of media deleted, rather than the entire account, but Twitter may evaluate that piece of media's social impact before deciding to delete it or not.
Aside from deleting the account, Twitter offers no other options.
Unfortunately, this massive conglomerate account will be the least straightforward for loved ones to handle.
Your Google account includes YouTube, Gmail, Google Drive, Picasa and all other Google programs your account is linked to. If you have an Android phone, your Google account is linked to your phone. This is arguably one of the most important for your loved ones to access.
Like Facebook, Google will permanently keep an archive of all your information, and your loved ones will never be able to access all of it. But they can apply for some access.
Google reviews requests on a case-by-case basis and is not straightforward about what requirements it has to grant requests.
Your best option is to use Google's Inactive Account Manager feature to specify what you would like to happen to your account when you pass. You can choose a contact Google will notify and allow them to download data from the sections of your account you choose.
Instagram is less open about its death policy.
The only option Instagram offers is to delete the account or leave it up. If your relative wants to delete the account, they can contact Instagram to delete it; otherwise, your account will remain unused and inactive on the internet.
The best way to ensure your family members can get access to the information they need is to plan ahead and give your relatives a way to access your accounts. However, if your concern is your privacy, then don't worry. All social media websites seem to have your back on this one.