Your Digital Legacy

It was with sadness that I learned of the recent passing of a long-term colleague, Monika Newman of Absolutely Virtual. A well-respected, long-standing VA who had a passion not only for the VA industry, but also for helping those a part of it. I had known Monika for nearly all of the 20+ years I have been in business and sat with her on industry committees. She was a truly lovely person.

COVID-19 meant the funeral was limited – but it was live streamed and I was so grateful I was able to attend “virtually” to say goodbye – kind of an ironic, but fitting way to send off a dear Virtual Assistant friend.

It’s not unusual that with the passing of someone close to us or when we hear of the passing of someone famous, for example, that we begin to think of our own lives and make some reassessments and adjustments. It might prompt us to check insurance policies, health fund coverage and even prompt us to make a Will if we don’t already have one.

Whilst it is one thing to get your material affairs in order, what do you do with your digital footprint once you’ve passed? We hear a lot in business about risk management, succession planning, ensuring your partner has access to your passwords, insurance policies and so on. Some businesses even write a plan for what to do in the event of illness or accident.

This latter scenario became apparent to me and how very important this is for businesses based on a partnership, when a very dear friend of my husband was killed in a bus accident. This couldn’t be planned for of course, but because it hadn’t even been thought about and he was the partner instrumental in bringing in new business, things looked pretty bleak for a while as the business pretty much went into a tailspin without him and eventually closed down.

How many businesses though or individuals for that matter who do have such a succession plan or risk mitigation plan include information about what to do with their online presence? So their website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest. The list is endless and who knows what’s going to happen in the future. What other social media applications and spaces might become available to us as technology changes? Your social media accounts store years of memories, pictures, data and activities, so it seems that now lawyers are advising people to think about including a clause in their Will about what should be done with social media accounts on their demise.

According to New Scientist, we are creating digital legacies for ourselves every day, even increasingly every minute. More than a quarter of a million Facebook users are estimated to die this year alone with information about themselves recorded online being the sum of their relationships, interests and beliefs. It’s who we are. It’s been called our digital soul and with the way we can now easily and cheaply store our information in the cloud, our digital souls are truly immortal.

Given some people tend not to make the best choices when it comes to sharing in the social media space, is this digital immortality really such a good idea?

Apparently there are two schools of thought: the preservationists who believe we should keep this information for posterity; and the deletionists who believe it’s important the internet learns how to forget.

Again according to New Scientist, in 2011 two thirds of all Americans stored personal data on a distant server in the cloud while nearly half were active on social networks. You can imagine that with the always on connectivity of today, this number is far higher and companies like Google and Facebook are dedicated to storing as much data for as long as possible. We already know that marketing companies can record our browsing history and search requests in order to target personalised advertising and offers. Once all this personal information used to be written down, but now with our reliance on digital storage, particularly by free sites like Facebook and Instagram and our ability with smart phones to take snapshots of moments in our lives and instantly upload them, the question now being asked is, are we doing enough to preserve this information?

The thing is, none of us own Facebook, Flicker, Twitter or other social media spaces, which can be taken down at any moment – taking our digital life with it. Remember Geocities?

It’s worth considering then what will happen to your digital memories in that eventuality.

Now might be a great time to think about just how much we rely on social media and cloud storage for our precious memories and life stories and perhaps rethink the reliance we place on the longevity of these technologies to preserve it.

If however we assume they will be around for a little while, what are some ideas for preserving your digital legacy or footprint?

Facebook’s policy is that a profile can be deleted at the request of an immediate family member or memorialized so that others can post tributes to them on the wall. You can see more information about this at Facebook’s help section on Memorialized Accounts. You might want to add a Legacy Contact to your Facebook account because Memorialized Accounts that do NOT have a Legacy Contact cannot be changed.

Immediate family members or a person authorised to act on behalf of the user can deactivate the person’s Twitter account.

In these instances, you might want to make arrangements for the death certificate to be available to your Executors so that they can prove it if they need to do these sorts of things on your behalf once you are gone.

Make a list of all your online accounts and notify your Executor or partner of those. You might keep this list together with access passwords with your Will at your lawyer’s office. At the very least, let your partner know where they can find them. They’ll have enough to deal with in the event of your death without having to try and remember every online space you’ve inhabited during your lifetime.

The same applies to your website. Include up to date information about who is hosting the site, contact details, the domain name registry, even the expiry information so that your family can get in touch with the right people with the least amount of fuss and without having to wait for the renewal emails.

If you have never thought about it before, now might be the time before something happens or you fall ill. It is of course something none of us like to think about, but as the saying goes, none of us are getting out of this alive. Making things as easy as possible for those left behind should be your focus, and perhaps while you’re at it, give some thought to how you might be able to preserve your life’s memories for posterity, which doesn’t rely so heavily on third party cloud providers.

© Lyn Prowse-Bishop – eSOS

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *