Twitter Policy Raises Questions about Deceased's Social Networking Profiles

What happens when a person dies and his or her Twitter and Facebook accounts live on? This has happened to friends in my life, and it's probably happened in yours. This week, Twitter came up with a new policy to address the issue.

Mashable explained:

"Just as Facebook allows users to request that an account be deleted or memorialized when a friend or loved one has passed on, Twitter users can now get in touch with administrators at the company to either completely delete the account or obtain a permanent backup of the deceased user’s public tweets.

"Accounts of deceased users will no longer appear in the "Who to Follow" suggestions box. We don't currently know whether you will be able to follow or even view a saved account of a deceased person on Twitter in the future, or whether there will be any distinguishing feature alerting you to the fact that the user had passed on. Currently, the accounts of deceased users look exactly the same as those of living users and can be followed and listed. We’ve contacted Twitter for details and are waiting to hear back from them.

"Both Twitter and Facebook ask that the deceased user's surviving family members submit a link to an obituary, along with information about their relationship to the deceased, before the account is deleted or backed up."

And what happens to all your passwords to these social networking sites? A website called Deathswitch lets you sign up to receive regular e-mails that ask for your passwords to make sure you're still alive. If there's no reply, the computer assumes you're critically disabled or dead and e-mails your pre-scripted messages to people you choose who may need the passwords to access bank records and the like.

On a related note, you could always use a site like and leave a few messages for folks you love before you pass away.

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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