The Afterlife in Social Networking

Every month I have the honor of presenting, How to Use the Internet and Social Media in Your Job Search, to a group of very dedicated government professionals who are transitioning. While we present this class to many groups each month, this group is the most challenging due to their resistance to being on the internet, let alone using social media. And they have good reason to be.

Though I was invited to present the class over three years ago, have been thoroughly vetted and have had my presentation cleared a number of times, I still put on my virtual flak jacket when I walk into the class. I provide a variety of disclaimers as to the material and how it is to be used. I love teaching the class as it is challenging and rewarding each time.

But I wasn’t prepared for the reaction I had in a recent class. I came to the slide that presented LinkedIn groups and the group that was set up specifically for the class participants. Shock, dismay and sadness – not quite the reaction I had expected. I continued with my presentation, answered some extremely complicated issues concerning identity protection and social media, and concluded the presentation.

As with any class, there are lots of questions afterwards and I stayed behind to answer them. A very nice lady came up and said there is a problem with one of your slides. She pointed to the LinkedIn slide on the handout that listed the group and names of some of the participants in the group as you see on any LinkedIn group home page. She said this person died. The individual had worked for decades with everyone in the class. Having just gotten over the shock of losing this person, some callous instructor puts their name right in front of them during a class. I was mortified. I had just spent over an hour convincing these individuals that being part of social media is the logical next step for them, and then they see a deceased colleague’s name on a LinkedIn group home page.

Unfortunately, this is the reality that we all now face. We have both offline and online presences. But whose responsibility is it to take down a person’s online profile? As with anything, it takes a community. Many parents and spouses are not prepared for handling the details when a loved one passes away. There are many legal, financial, physical and emotional tasks and now they have one more – the digital life of this person.

When a colleague passed away in our community, many of us were shocked when his profile kept being “recommended” or would show up in a search. This young professional’s family was devastated by losing their family member and none of us wanted to burden the family with letting them know there was one more thing they had to think about. A group of us compiled the necessary public notices and filled out the form to submit to LinkedIn. It took about a month but the profile was taken down. Many of the employees of the deceased’s company thought that the company should have done this, not from a policy standpoint, but from a community standpoint. We can debate from a legal and moral standpoint as to who, how and when to take a person’s online profile down, but it is a community’s responsibility to support its members and their families during good times and bad.

If you need to support someone who has to deal with an individual’s online person when they have passed away, here are some resources to utilize:

LinkedIn https://help.linkedin.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/2842

Facebook: Facebook chooses to allow you to memorialize an account and you have to report a deceased person here: http://www.facebook.com/help/contact.php?show_form=deceased

Privacy, Deactivation and Memorializing http://www.facebook.com/help/?page=842

Twitter: http://support.twitter.com/groups/33-report-a-violation/topics/122-reporting-violations/articles/87894-how-to-contact-twitter-about-a-deceased-user

Gmail http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=14300

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Stephen Peteritas

Ugh that does stink but honestly I’ve often wondered the same thing. Thanks for the resources, good to know that the hard hitters in social media actual have processes for this kind of stuff

Kathleen Smith


Yes it is hard. I was amazed that each platform had a different type of response for yes we will work with you to you are out of luck. I was also surprised at Facebook’s stance on saying “we” will move to mermorialize the person rather then working with the family on their wishes. Yahoo’s response was equally disturbing – you are out of luck.

Andrew Krzmarzick

I’ve never thought about this before…I would actually take some comfort in seeing their profile occasionally.

For instance, my younger brother passed away at the age of 23 (I hate cancer). He did not have a Facebook page…but I wish he would have…as I would likely visit it occasionally to look at his previous updates and see his photos or videos…it would have become a much more convenient place to honor and cherish his memory than a cemetery I’ll likely never visit.

Elliot Volkman

I understand that a network could get in much larger trouble if they give family members access to their loved ones account opposed to just letting it sit, but as social media expands I believe these issues will be worked out. At the rate we are going it wouldn’t be illogical to think people will include a separate will of sorts that lists their online account information and passwords. It should be more the person who owns the account to be responsible enough to provide that information. I believe at some point there was a website that even acted as an online will for this type of thing.

Tarryn Reddy

I had a friend pass away that had a Facebook page and it always pops up now and again. I think it is a great reminder of what a fantastic and caring person she was, and her pictures represent the fun and bubbly person she was. I agree Andy it’s a great way to honor their memory and celebrate their life.

Henry Brown

Have an amendment to my will that lists all my online accounts, and my local PC passwords. The wife has also included her list in her will. We update it annually on our anniversary We have done this since my father passed away late last century and we had to take his laptop to a “hacker” who was able to “break-in”, for a VERY large fee.

Jeff Ellsworth

This is a tough one. My Facebook friend list contains two people who have died – one was my aunt, the other a high school friend. I can’t bring myself to de-friend them, and I don’t think it’s my place to suggest the families delete the accounts – they may find some comfort there, and if so, far be it from me to spoil it. Yes, it feels a little odd when their faces pop up, but it’s more bittersweet than really disturbing or painful.