by Anne R. Allen
ne of my blogger friends died last week. Ann was a regular commenter here from the beginning and often gave me suggestions for blog topics (she commented as "Churadogs".) Her own blog, Calhoun's Cannons,
grew out of a local newspaper column. It's smart and funny and fierce and full of the down-and-dirty info on local politics.
Her illness, pancreatic cancer, is a ruthless killer. It sneaks up so fast that a diagnosis is usually a death sentence. Ann was diagnosed less than two months ago. Her last blogpost was on June 17th. It makes me cry when I look at it. Her family and friends are dealing with all the chaos that happens when a life is cut short without much warning.
So what will happen to Ann's blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts? Without passwords and usernames to log in, her heirs could be facing a host of problems.
It turns out social media is crammed with dead people. Senior Planet
reported in 2012 that three Facebook users die every minute. The number is probably bigger now.
And bad things can happen to dead people on Facebook...or any other social media site
I'm more amazed by the savagery on the Internet every day. As I said two weeks ago, it's time for governments and big tech companies to do more to curtail rampant bullying
. "Freedoms" should apply to all of us, not just sociopaths. I'm so glad to see that Reddit is finally cleaning up its act
: this week the new CEO banned illegal activity on the site. Good for him!
But there's a horrible thing called RIP trolling
where bands of bullies deface the pages and accounts of people who have died for the sheer "lulz" of torturing the bereaved.
Any untended blog will also attract endless spam invitations to meet hot Russian women, buy fake college papers, and enlarge your penis. Most of us would prefer not to have that as our legacy. So now is the time to act if you don't want your cyber-remains to haunt the Interwebz forever.
Don't Become a Social Media Ghost.
Yes, I know younger people don't think this applies to them. I was a firm believer in my own immortality until I was at least forty. But even young, healthy people get in accidents or are struck by sudden illnesses.
Not a nice thought, but it happens. Consider author-blogger Mac Tonnies
, who updated his blog one night in 2009, went to bed and died of cardiac arrhythmia. He was 34. His blog, Posthuman Blues
, is still just as he left it.
The thread of comments is heartbreaking—first expressions of annoyance from his regular followers about his lack of updates, then rumors, then the death announcement, then poignant memorials, then…spam. One friend posted a final comment in August of 2014, letting people know the blog had been turned into a book. Then the comments drift off into more sad spam. Without his password, nobody can delete the spam, and his digital remains may hang in limbo as long as there is an Internet.
The Internet is crowded with ghosts like Mr. Tonnies.
I've read sad tales of young people who have died suddenly whose social media accounts stay open forever, not just attracting those disgusting trolls, but reminding friends daily of their loss as posts on the page of the deceased keep appearing in their news feed.
An article at Mashable
told of one young woman who lost her best friend, and after getting "updates" from her friend's "ghost" for months finally had to unfriend her.
Make Sure Somebody You Trust Has Access to Your Book Accounts, Too.
All of this is more complicated if you've got published books as well.
Heirs may have to deal with Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, Audible, Wattpad, Goodreads, and other accounts as well.
This is what I confronted when my mom died. My mom developed dementia in her last year of life—but she was so clever, she hid it from us for months. But the one thing she could not do was remember passwords. I realized how bad things were when she stopped answering my emails. And she had to give up her computer entirely when she went into assisted living, because she couldn't remember how to log on.
In the huge work of moving her things and selling her house, none of us thought to look for her list of passwords. And if we'd found it, most of them would probably have been out of date because she kept changing them in those last weeks.
After she died, I had to do a lot of searching around to figure out how close down her FB, Goodreads, and Twitter accounts without her passwords. I did find it could be done on many sites—but not all—armed with her death certificate and obituary and proper identification.
Some sites were very accommodating, but Nook has steadfastly refused to take down her account and keeps sending money to a non-existent bank account. (Although they allowed me to put her book in my account as well, so there are now two accounts for her on Nook.)
Nobody knows where the money from her first account goes, but Barnes and Noble notifies the IRS of her "income" every year, which means we cannot close out her estate. Their rule is that an account must be closed from the email address used to open the account, with "no exceptions." Funny how a dying company
won't allow its customers to die.
But hassles like this can be avoided with digital and social media executors.
The Digital Executor
"Digital executor" is a legal term that's accepted in some states but not all. If you have a will, you can get your lawyer to add a codicil to your will with the extra info. If your regular executor can be your digital executor as well, you have no problem.
But if your heirs are not tech-savvy, you need to appoint somebody who is.
A digital executor needs to deal with all your online financial stuff, like—
- Collecting your intellectual property—online written material, music files, photos, videos, and other online content—and transferring it to your heirs.
- Closing online banking and shopping accounts.
- Deleting files from your computer or other devices, or erasing devices' hard drives
- Closing or maintaining online accounts like web hosting services
- Closing down subscription services and other accounts that are paid for (like Hulu, Netflix or Amazon Prime) and/or transferring accounts to your heirs
- Transferring any income-generating items (your book retailer accounts, plus websites, blogs, affiliate accounts, etc.) to your heirs
- Closing down your social media accounts and notifying online groups of your death.
You can find further information and even a downloadable worksheet at a site called Everplans.
They have a planning tool that guides you through the process of creating, storing, and sharing everything your heirs will need.
You can also make things much easier for your executor if you use something called PasswordBox
which you can download for free.
Everybody needs somebody to do this for them in the digital age, but it's a more complicated business than a simple social media executor.
The Social Media Executor
Social media executors don't have to deal with anything financial the way a digital executor does. Basically they just do #7 on the list above.
They only need your social network usernames and passwords so they can protect your blog and social media accounts and notify online friends of your death.
This can include all the social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest etc. as well as online gaming sites and forums.
You can appoint a social media executor informally without going through a lawyer. And I urge you to do so. Now. Don't put it off.
But, for those of you who have lost a loved one who did not save information for a social media executor, here's how you get accounts deleted—
How to Memorialize and/or Delete a Facebook Page
Facebook is definitely the most user-friendly site for heirs. Their policy is to memorialize a deceased user’s page for the benefit of the survivors. People can post their condolences, for example, or share photos.
- Memorializing a page requires proof of death via an online obituary.
- Taking down a page requires a death certificate and proof of identity from the legal heir,
- Deal with your Facebook legacy right now and make things easy for everybody. FB has made it easy for you. Go to your "Settings" page, choose "Security" and "Legacy Contact." There you can name a Facebook friend to be your account's caretaker. You can also choose if you want this person to be able to download content from your page. Or, you can simply check a box that tells FB to delete your account when you kick the bucket.
How to Close a Twitter Account
Twitter does not memorialize accounts. If you don't have access to the account via password, an executor has to contact Twitter Security via snail mail, at:
c/o: Trust & Safety
1355 Market St., Suite 900
San Francisco, CA 94103
- The username of the deceased (e.g., @username or twitter.com/username)
- A copy of the deceased’s death certificate
- A copy of your government-issued ID (like a driver’s license)
- Your full legal name
- Your email address
- Your current contact information
- Your relationship to the deceased user or their estate
- Action requested (e.g., ‘please deactivate the Twitter account’)
- A brief description of the details that evidence this account belongs to the deceased, if the name on the account does not match the name on death certificate.
- A link to an online obituary or a copy of the obituary from a local newspaper
How to Delete an a Goodreads Author Account
An executor will usually want to delete an active author account, but keep the books and their reviews on site. If you have no access to the account, contact a Goodreads librarian and attach a copy of the death certificate as well as proof of your identity and relationship to the deceased.
How to Transfer an Amazon Account
In order to transfer my mom's account to my name, I contacted Amazon through Author Central with the same data I gave Goodreads. If you're not an Amazon author, this will probably be more difficult, but I found the people at Author Central very accommodating. They even offered to fold her books into my account.
If you're an heir, you'll want to keep KDP and CreateSpace accounts active and transfer the income to the estate. If you have an Amazon buying account of your own, make sure you use that email address to contact Amazon with the proper information.
Again, passwords will help a lot.
Closing Down Google Plus and YouTube Accounts
I have not been able to find a contact address for Google, so this is a tough one. I've read you need to provide Google with an email from your loved one's Google-related email address to prove that you knew each other, plus a copy of the death certificate. This should allow you to get an account deleted. But sometimes Google people are very difficult and require a court order, according to Senior Planet
So make sure you give your executor those usernames and passwords, okay? Otherwise, the chances are good you'll be a Google Ghost for eternity.
I don't know about Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, etc, but I assume the problems will be similar. Give somebody those passwords!
What About Blogs?
There's not yet a standardized system for dealing with blogs once we’ve gone home to the Great Social Network in the Sky. That means that unless you've got a designated blog executor, your blog could hang forever in cyberspace like Posthuman Blues, especially if it's a Google (Blogger) blog.
Melissa Ford at Stirrup Queens
posted a great list of things to do to insure that doesn't happen.
She suggests you make a "Password Passbook" for your social media executor and heirs. She advises you to make this in hard copy only, because a hacker can find a file by searching for "passwords". (Or you could label them "fishcakes" or some code only you and your executor will understand.)
She suggests a simple handmade document with three columns listing for each site:
- Site name
Then put this in a safe place with your other important documents and snail mail a copy to your social media executor. And remember to update it every six months or so as you change passwords and add or delete accounts.
She also reminds people to put in writing which sites you want kept up and which you want taken down and where you'd like to post the announcement of your death.
If you don't want to go the low-tech route, you can download a free Excel Worksheet for a "social media will" at Dead Social.
If you save it on your computer, give it a name that doesn't use the word "password". And also print out hard copies and put them in a safe, but prominent place. Don't make your heirs go on a fishing expedition in your computer files.
What if You Want To Leave Your Blog Up as a Memorial?
Of course some people want their blogs and social media pages to stay online after they are gone. But you still need to plan for that, so your blog doesn't become a billboard for spam.
It is possible to leave your blog up if you have a social media executor. Friends of the departed (fictional) Miss Snark have sustained her blog for agent-seekers in the "Snarkives"
for nearly ten years. They have disabled comments, but her executor, "Miss Adventure" will still answer questions via email.
You can also prepare a message for your loved ones to be displayed after your death on your social media pages at a site called "Dead Social
," which also has a lot of other great info on digital legacies.
You can even record a video message to be posted on your Facebook page after you go at ifIdie.net
(Warning, it opens with an annoying voice over, so don't click on it if you're at work or the baby is sleeping.)
A Special Note to Writers in the Query or Submission process
If you’re in the query process, it’s also a good idea to let your executor know where to find the list of your outstanding requested manuscripts and story submissions.
A quick email from your executor to the agents or editors who are reading a writer's material would not only be kind, but it might even make it possible for a story or book to be published posthumously. (If we can judge by Steig Larssen’s phenomenal success, being deceased might even be a good career move.)
Your Digital Legacy
Nobody likes to think about shuffling off one’s mortal coil, but we all need to have a plan in place.
The subject of our digital legacies was addressed several years ago by Evan Carroll and John Romano in their book, Your Digital Afterlife
. And they were responsible for getting sites like Facebook and Twitter to allow accounts to be deleted by heirs. The book has been updated since then and they also have lots of valuable information at their website, the Digital Beyond
Adele McAlear is a blogger who focuses on the electronic remains the modern human leaves behind. On her blog, Death and Digital Legacy
she offers excellent tips on how heirs can deal with social media and she also curates articles on digital estates.
Digital Legacies are now becoming big business. This year, the first Digital Legacy Conference
was held in London.
Make sure you protect your own legacy by appointing an executor. Now.
What about you Scriveners? Have you thought about what will happen to your social media accounts when you die? Do you have a social media executor? Does your family know about all your social media accounts? Have you provided for distribution of your intellectual property in your will?
You can read an interview with me at You Read it Here First,
I'm talking with Debbie McClure about my new Camilla comedy, So Much for Buckingham
as well as self-vs-trad publishing and many other aspects of the writerly life.
A note to friends of Ann Calhoun:
A potluck and celebration of Ann's life will be held at the South Bay Community Center - 2180 Palisades Avenue in Los Osos on Saturday, August 1, 2015 from 2-6 pm
- everyone is invited - please bring your favorite dish and memories and stories of Ann, who left this earth way too early!
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Academic Body, a cozy campus mystery my mom wrote when she was in her 80s, lives on and is still selling well.
Right now, it's only 99c at Amazon, Kobo, iTunes and Nook (if you land on a page where it costs more at Nook, you've reached the old account they won't delete, so be sure to use this link.)
Retired theatrical director Paul Godwin longs for the quiet life of a college professor, but can he woo his famous wife away from the New York stage to become part of his academic life in small-town Maine? Not easily, especially after the dean accuses him of having a fling with a student and then is found dead in circumstances that make Paul a prime suspect in the investigation.
Paul's efforts to discover the real culprit provoke dangerous reprisals, but he must succeed to save his new career, his marriage - and perhaps his life.
I love the sensual aspects of this novel, the circumspect but highly charged sexual chemistry between the couple, the fact that they're not above tippling a bit and enjoying gourmet meals prepared mostly by Paul himself for the woman he loves...Sue McGinty, author of the Bella Kowalski mysteries.
BARTLEBY SNOPES CONTEST $10 FOR UNLIMITED ENTRIES
. Compose a short story entirely of dialogue. Must be under 2,000 words. Your entry cannot use any narration (this includes tag lines such as he said, she said, etc.). These are the only rules. 5 finalists will also appear in Issue 15 of the magazine. Last year they awarded $2,380 in prize money. Deadline September 15.
Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers Entry Fee $15
. A prize of $1,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories,
and 20 copies of the prize issue is given quarterly for a short story by a writer whose fiction has not been published in a print publication with a circulation over 5,000. Using the online submission system, submit a story of 1,200 to 12,000 words. Deadline August 31.
Creative Nonfiction magazine
is seeking new essays for an upcoming issue dedicated to MARRIAGE. TRUE STORIES about marriage from any POV: happy spouses, ex-fiancees, wedding planners, divorce attorneys, whoever. Up to 4000 words. $20 Entry fee.
$1000 first prize. Deadline: August 31.
CRAZYHORSE SHORT-SHORT FICTION AWARD $15 Entry fee.
$1,000 and publication. Three runners-up. All entries considered for publication. Submit one to three short-shorts of up to 500 words each. Deadline July 31.
DIABOLICAL PLOTS NO FEE
. A new online journal that publishes original fiction, one story per month. Genres: science fiction, fantasy, horror (everything must have speculative element, even horror). 2000 word limit. Pays .06 cents/word. Deadline July 31.
Labels: Adele McAlear, Ann Calhoun, blogging tips, Calhoun's Cannons, Death and Digital Legacy, Digital Executor, Melissa Ford, Senior Planet, Shirley S. Allen, the Digital Beyond, Your Digital Afterlife