Social Networking In Matters Of Life And Death

UpdateEarly Friday morning, Poland-based Implix CEO and Founder Simon Grabowski signed on to the company's Facebook page to find a status update from Rachael, a client, letting the world know about her intent to commit suicide.

Grabowski had noticed strange updates on Rachael's Facebook account for the past few days, but didn't think this Texas-based client would actually attempt to take her own life.

But as every moment of some people's lives are livedpublicly, so too, can their deaths. Last year, when 21-year-old Kevin Apuzzio died, his Facebook profile was transformed into a digital memorial. The topic of what happens to someone's social network and email accounts after they die is a topic that an Implix employee has blogged about in the past.

Experts believe more people will begin using social media to relay messages to loved ones, family and friends even after they have died. Email accounts or profiles on forums or sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, are rarely deleted for inactivity. And as more people share their lives online, a digital trail can live on forever after we die.

The Swedish startup MyWebWill Co-founders Elin Tybring and Lisa Granberg hope to solve that problem. The two plan to launch a service within a few weeks that helps people "take control of your life on the Web after death." The first version of the service offers a way to erase Facebook accounts or change statuses, take down blog posts, and send emails to friends and family.

Since people blog, upload pictures and hang out with their friends online daily, Tybring and Granberg decided to launch the service after seeing a need to take control of digital identities and remaining traces of online activity after someone dies. Not having the access "represents an increasing problem" for those left behind, she says.

Today, most information ends up on digital password-protected sites, unlike the way people documented lives by writing entrees in diaries and letters. Unless those passwords are shared, few ways exist to access important information or remove the posts and the photos from online.

Tybring also makes the case that most people don't consider telling anyone what they want to do with the posts and sites after they are gone. Become a member and the service lets you decide when to execute the emails and messages, such as the day of the month or length of time after death. The company's backend system also links in with several registry boards to verify when people have passed.

Subscribers first choose the type of membership that suits their needs. Next, they decide what should happen to accounts after death. Options include deactivating them, changing content or transferring account details to others. Under "changing the content," the subscriber can conduct changes for a certain account, such as leaving a last status update on Facebook or posting a last tweet on Twitter. These options are specific to each site.

When MyWebwill is informed about a death, the site decrypts the information and executes the requests. The site offers three types of accounts: Basic, Premium with yearly billing, and Premium with one-time billing. The Basic account, which is free, simply deactivates all the accounts.

The site will not bombard visitors with advertisements, but instead will provide ads from a few selected companies that offer complimentary products, such as Symantec, Tybring says.

Update:According to a spokesperson at Implix, the client Rachel is "OK now. Simon and his colleague in Poland called the proper authorities in Texas directly so they could check on the situation."  

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10 comments about "Social Networking In Matters Of Life And Death".
  1. Adele Mcalear from McAlear Marketing , March 1, 2010 at 8:24 a.m.

    Thanks for bringing this subject to light. It's one that is important to anyone who has a digital footprint, and touches on issues related to security, privacy, copyright law and estates. I've been researching, writing and speaking about this topic and am actively seeking people's stories. For those interested, you can find more information at http://deathanddigitallegacy.com.

    You don't say, but, whatever happened to Rachel in Texas?

  2. Edward Feather from Partners+simons , March 1, 2010 at 9:24 a.m.

    While I agree that this is an important subject, the writing is horrible. To start off an article with a subject such as suicide and lead us on about this unfolding situation of "life and death" and then not tell us what happened - terrible. The line that reads "Grabowski had noticed strange updates on Rachael's Facebook account for the past few days, but didn't think this Houston, Texas-based client would actually attempt to take her own life." does not finish the story. What happened? Did he contact her and try to help her? Did anyone get this person help? Is anyone disturbed by the fact that people are using facebook to do this kind of thing? When you lead in with a subject like this, you have to take responsibility for your writing. I stopped caring about the rest of the article.

  3. Katie Benston from Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region , March 1, 2010 at 9:51 a.m.

    Did he do something? This article would be more effective if it shared what our responsibilities are as readers and how to take action. the intro is very misleading.

  4. Tricia Wilhelm from Beyond the C , March 1, 2010 at 11:18 a.m.

    Irresponsible "journalism," on an important topic.

  5. Laurie Sullivan from lauriesullivan , March 1, 2010 at 11:59 a.m.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment. Perhaps an article addressing social responsibility would make a great follow up, a topic this article does not address. (By the way Katie, he did dial 911.)

  6. Jeff Rutherford from Jeff Rutherford Media Relations, LLC , March 1, 2010 at 12:14 p.m.

    I'm confused too. What happened with the woman who threatened suicide?

  7. Diane Mahan from Kl├╝ndt | Hosmer , March 1, 2010 at 12:39 p.m.

    Laurie, thank you for clarifying that he called 911. However, your story still leaves several holes that should have been answered: how did he get 911 if he was in Poland? What happened to their client relationship? Is the woman fine now?

    Your story started off in one direction then did a complete U-turn on the reader. As an author, you owe it to your readers to tie up loose ends. Your credibility and future readership is on the line. Updating this story even if it at the end would be more appropriate than leaving the cryptic comment "he did dial 911"

  8. Phillip Djwa from Agentic Communications Inc. , March 1, 2010 at 2:30 p.m.

    Where is Laurie's "911" comment? Anyway, as the others have said, important to finish up your intro with a resolution. Disturbing to read and definitely want to know that it ended well.

  9. Mark Regan from Mark Regan , March 1, 2010 at 3:55 p.m.

    I always worry about the millions of passwords I have should I ever pass. On a monthly basis I save them using Roboform to a thumb drive and place it in our safe with a note to my wife.

    I'm sure it will help, but what you talk about is even beyond that level of cleanup. Closing accounts is something I've never thought about.

    I'm just not sure anyone would pay a monthly fee to keep their records up-to-date.

  10. Laurie Sullivan from lauriesullivan , March 1, 2010 at 5:54 p.m.

    Mark, you are absolutely correct in leaving that information in a safe with a note to your wife. Although a young man, my husband died of Cancer three years ago, March 14. The doctors caught the Cancer two months before he passed. As a software programmer, he spent a lot of time online. So, in the last month of his life we had to go through all his online accounts, emails and blog posts. Not an easy thing to do, but something we now need to think about.