My mom died a few weeks go and this topic has been very much on my mind as I had the grim task of tidying up the social media world of someone who was *very* tech savvy and all over various platforms.
She died incredibly unexpectedly and without any warning, so there were no plans at all and no opportunity to talk to her about what to do. She just took a massive stroke caused by a fault in a blood vessel which, despite every modern technology and intervention being available, it was not repairable. She went from a happy weekend brunch, to unconscious, to dead within barely 24 hours.
All of a sudden, I realised I had to not only contact all of her friends by phone, text and even letter, but she had made me a legacy contact on her Facebook, so I was able to very quickly memoralise it and lock it down. There was a whole virtual world connected to her that had to be wrapped up without breaking into it or trampling on her right to privacy and the confidence of those who she was in touch with over the years.
It got me thinking about all the other social media accounts she had that I am aware of and others that I probably will never know about.
I felt extremely uncomfortable about the idea of going anywhere near her phone. There's just so much confidential information in these devices and I was thinking about it from my own point of view and I would utterly dread someone (even if they were very close relative or my best friend) trawling my devices. There's nothing embarrassing or weird on them, but there are a lot of very personal discussions that were never intended for consumption by *anyone( other than me. So, I took that approach with her data and basically avoided opening / looking at anything.
In the end I closed ( strictly without reading anything) the majority of her social media accounts, at least anything that was directly identifiable with her real name. Anything other than that is really just none of my business and irrelevant. I then closed and deleted any connected apps that have databases behind them, deleted them and closed off all iOS subscriptions and eventually closed and deleted her iCloud account and Gmail account etc.
My major concern was someone might either hijack an account or that any account where people could post to her could become a source of unpleasant spam. So, I pretty much locked or fully deleted anything I could find. My logic is that while they may be secure to within 2018 norms, in 10 years time they could be completely vulnerable or some of those companies may have gone to the wall or who knows what could happen. I just didn't want to leave data floating around in cyberspace in the control of companies that I have no relationship with on her behalf..
It's a really horrible task to have to do and I wouldn't be so sure that my own nearest and dearests would be so concerned about my privacy after I'm gone as I might have been with hers. People have very different views of confidentiality and nostalgia could outweigh where I see my private life beginning and ending.
I decided that I will setup a legal framework in my will for my own accounts and devices that they be completely erased when I go. I will always keep things I specifically want to share in a shared space, but anything else is almost like an extension of my brain. I don't want to necessarily share it with anyone. It's far more sensitive than diary in many ways and was never intended for anyone's consumption. There are certain things that will go when I go and that's just how life is.
All I would say is everyone should make plans for this. Hopefully we'll all live to a ripe old age and have lots of time to plan and prepare for the inevitable, but a % of us may be struck down by sudden illnesses, accidents or other bolts of lightening out of the blue. Life's not predictable and we're not immortal, but our digital legacies may well last for hundreds of years after we're gone and it's worth remembering that it's *you* who should be telling your story and leaving that legacy, not having it interpreted or reinterpreted by someone else.
It's also about protecting your personal contacts. Do you really want a relative or possibly even a total stranger suddenly having access to conversations that may be of the utmost confidence with your online world of contacts?
I mean, I know I have had some of my most intimate conversations where I've been very open to others and they've been very open to me online. Some of those people I know very well in my real life, but others are online only. I've acted as a counsellor at times over the years and I know some of them have to me too. I would doubt that experience is all that unusual as sometimes we can really pour our hearts out online in a way we might not do face-to-face. I feel I have a duty of care to those people to keep those confidences, even after I'm gone.
Even forgetting about the confidentiality, morals and ethics, it will be your partner, your kids, your parents or someone else who's close to you who's left with this grim task, so it's probably better that you make positive decisions about it now and have it all happen automatically when your brain does eventually power off, rather than leaving it to a grieving relative who might not be able to make rational decisions for months after your passing or who might have very different values to yours.