Facebook, TikTok, Twitter… What to do with the social networks of a deceased loved one?

According to the CNIL, almost 8,000 people with a Facebook profile die every day around the world, leaving many accounts abandoned. Different platforms cannot take the initiative to close or delete profiles, because it is impossible for them to distinguish a simple inactive account from a deceased person. This is why, if no relatives come forward, the account will continue to exist.

In principle, a profile in a social network or an email account is strictly personal and therefore subject to correspondence secrecy. However, Article 85 of the Data Protection Act, related to the protection of personal data, provides that the heirs of a deceased person can ask the person responsible for a file, in this case the social network, to keep the account of the latter’s death, and to update their data, provided they prove their identity. The platforms have implemented various functions to change the account and notify the death of its owner.

Account deletion

The easiest solution offered by almost all social networks, and the one and only for some, is to delete the account. As painful as it is to ask to erase all memories and traces of a loved one’s life, it’s also the way to avoid digital problems, like hacks, that can make mourning difficult. Twitter and Snapchat have no other alternatives.

To report and request closure of a deceased person’s Twitter account, one must complete an available deactivation form here.
To do the same on Snapchat, you must complete a deactivation form available here and present a death certificate.

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Changing a memory

If deleting Facebook and Instagram accounts is also possible, Meta offers another solution. To offer a form “digital eternity”, as the CNIL wrote, it is possible to turn the account of the deceased into a memorial. Thus, all previously posted content remains available, the legatee of the account also has the possibility to post a final publication as well as change certain information, such as the profile picture or requests to subscription. However, he won’t actually have access to the account because the identifiers won’t be given to him directly. These memorial accounts will be accompanied by the notion “in memory of”, or “worry” for English speakers.

To apply for a Facebook memorial account, you need to complete a form available here and attach a death certificate.

On Instagram, you must fill out a form available here and attach a death certificate.

Leave account access

For its part, Google offers other solutions. First of all, the company allows everyone to specify a period of inactivity before the account becomes inactive, from 3 to 18 months. A few months before the deadline expires, a message is sent to the account owner who has to decide whether to delete it or not. But Google acknowledges that despite this possibility, many people die without leaving the instructions.

That’s why Google also offers another option, which allows relatives to access an account. So, up to 10 people can have access to the various services of Android Pay, Chrome, Mail and YouTube, for example. However, if the user takes precautions and requests the deletion of the account after inactivity, these people will still have three months to download the data that is there. A possibility that Facebook also gives the legatee in case he wants to delete the account instead of making it a memory.

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To configure the inactivity of his account, go here.
To file a request for access to a deceased person’s Google account, you must complete a form available here.

Write a digital will

While all platforms, apart from TikTok, have provided solutions to anticipate the death of their users, our digital identity is not exclusively subject to the goodwill of social networks. Article 40-1 of the Data Protection Act allows anyone to specify “directives related to the storage, erasure and communication of his personal data after his death”. So it is possible to write a true digital testament by detailing the future of the various data that everyone leaves behind, from their emails to their video games and their music playlists. This allows you to have control over your digital death, but also to fix the shortcomings of the solutions put in place by the platforms while easing the many procedures for relatives after death. These directives must be registered with a digital trusted third party certified by the CNIL.

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