One of my former students died a few years ago, yet her Facebook page remains. Her page has turned into a shrine, and her friends come and leave messages every once in awhile, whenever they miss her.
I’m not sure if her parents left the page up on purpose, or if they didn’t know it existed. For a teenager, though, the Facebook shrine seems appropriate, especially since all of her friends grew up using the service.
However, if something were to happen to me in an accident, I don’t want my Facebook page to stay active. Same applies to my personal Twitter account and Google+ account. Without someone regularly monitoring these pages, they could easily be hacked and the hacked content could be very upsetting to the people who are close to me.
As part of my August resolution to create an “In case of …” file, I’ve decided to include specific instructions on what to do with my social online presence. I really, really, really have not enjoyed thinking about all of this, but I’m putting on my big girl pants and bucking through it. And, my hope is that no one ever has to look at this file.
My friend Craig and I were talking about this subject recently, and he explained to me what he plans to do. Before I get too deep into his explanation, you should know Craig is in his 20s, single, no children, doesn’t own property, and doesn’t necessarily trust his family to carry out his “In case of …” plans exactly as he wishes (although he wholeheartedly trusts many of his friends to do so). He and I are in two very different stages of our lives, which speaks to why our solutions are so varied. Craig doesn’t have an “In case of …” file, but he has something that is close enough. He uses the service Dead Man’s Switch.
The way Dead Man’s Switch works is every few months they send you an email asking you to click on a link. If you click on the link, you’re verifying that you’re alive. If you don’t click on the link, they’ll send you a second email and then a third. If you don’t respond to any of the emails (you choose how much time lapses between the initial and follow-up emails), the service assumes you are dead. At that point, emails will be distributed to people of your choosing with specific instructions on how to carry out your post-death requests. In Craig’s case, he wrote all of the emails in one afternoon and then encrypted them before passing them along to Dead Man’s Switch. He said they are mostly related to shutting down his online presence.
As we were talking, Craig made some very good points about shutting down one’s online identity, which apply to “In case of …” files and services like Dead Man’s Switch:
- The people reading your file or your email need to be receptive to what you’re saying. If you’re making any kind of requests about how you would like your things handled, it’s important that the recipients be people who are likely to honor your requests.
- You then have to have a couple of awkward conversations telling folks you will want them to read your file or to wait for an email after you die. It’s a very bad idea to not tell someone, unless you want to scare them with unexpected email from beyond the grave. Thankfully, these conversations are only a quick unpleasantness.
- Updating passwords and logins in your file or emails is crucial. This information can’t ever be out of date. Personally, I [Craig] have a number of websites up, and there’s at least one that I’d like to think should stay up if I were to die tomorrow. People need to have the ability to log into my hosting accounts and renew domains. People need access to my email. People need access to my Twitter and Facebook accounts, either to take them down entirely or at least update them to reflect my new status. Essentially, any login I have needs to be passed on to someone. If you use something like a password manager, giving the main password needed to access that might be a good way to deal with all of the passwords and logins at once.
Have you thought about your online identity and including instructions for dealing with it in your “In case of …” file? Would a service like Dead Man’s Switch work for you? Are you excited for August to come to an end so you can stop reading such morbid topics on this site?