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Social Media: A Digital Graveyard?

Death is something that many people don’t like talking about for obvious reasons, but with 2016 kicking off with David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey of The Eagles, Natalie Cole, Vanity and other high profile celebrities passing away, the topic has been making headlines on a weekly basis.  More than ever before, people are talking about what happens after we die, how we will be remembered, and how our legacies will be preserved. Who controls our reputations after we’ve gone, ties up our loose ends and makes sure that lasting memories of us are positive? Those are just a few questions being discussed on and offline.

But it doesn’t end there.


Living On Online

Social media has added an entirely new dimension to this conversation. Did you know that an estimated 428 Facebook users die every hour? That’s a shocking 30 million users since Mark Zuckerberg’s creation first launched in 2004. These dormant accounts -- originally set up by the deceased -- often continue to receive friend requests, get tagged in photos, and even happy birthday messages.

So who takes over these Facebook accounts and manages these inbound requests? Until recently, nobody gave it much thought. When it comes to end of life planning, the process missed the mark when it came to managing digital assets and online accounts. Fortunately, new features now available on social media sites have slowly begun to churn out effective solutions. One example is Facebook’s ”legacy contact” that allows users to decide who manages their homepage and account once they’ve passed away.  But this is just a first step towards a much needed larger solution to resolve the burgeoning problem of “data after death.” More needs to be done.


Where Do I Start?

Individuals can start by preparing a list of accounts, passwords, and instructions, storing them in a safe and secure place, and sharing access to them with reliable and capable trustees. It’s good to keep in mind that while basic end of life planning solves many of the technical issues, it also often ignores the emotional needs of those left behind. Doing just these basics minimizes the needs of the person planning for their passing. Everyone deserves to have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that they’ll be involved in the lives of their loved ones for a long time to come.


It Won’t Happen to Me!

Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of stories about digital mishaps after death. Most adults buy life insurance, so why wouldn’t they also make a kind of “emotional life insurance” for their friends, families, and loved ones? Based on what we’ve heard from many people, especially young and healthy ones, they feel like it couldn’t happen to them. The sad reality is that there are graveyards full of people who thought that death wouldn’t find them so early or so suddenly.

In his famous speech in Stanford University, Steve Jobs said that "no one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven, don't want to die to get there And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true."

No one wants to burden loved ones with a myriad of storage repositories, accounts, and no information, but this is what happens most of the time. Fortunately, times are changing. We’ve seen adult children helping their parents to create digital legacies for their grandchildren. The stigma of end-of-life planning is being lifted, slowly, but surely. David Bowie’s passing was especially poignant given his race to complete his last album Black Star and Broadway play Lazarus. Clearly he was a man determined to end his life on a high note and leave his children with positive memories of their father as a fighter and artist to the very end. For his efforts, he was rewarded with overwhelmingly positive reviews and a hit album.


Filter your digital data

If you think about the amount of digital data any person is creating these days, the numbers are overwhelming. Each one of us takes hundreds of pictures, movies and so much more, so the ones left behind are most likely to get lost in this sea of information. What we must bear in mind is to filter our important digital information, pictures and accounts to help those who stay behind to continue with their life. What’s needed is a kind of a digital "shoe box" with the most cherished memories and moments you would like to keep for generations to come. It will also help the ones left behind to continue on with their life with your virtual presence on their side.

Nobody likes to plan for their death, but it’s a task you can’t afford to avoid, especially in the digital age. Don’t let someone else determine how you will be remembered. Take matters into your own hands before it’s too late.


Moran Zur is the CEO and Founder at SafeBeyond, a “digital time capsule” and online platform that allows users to record and store video, audio and written messages to be accessed posthumously by their heirs and loved ones. The idea for SafeBeyond was inspired by the sense of tragic uncertainty faced by Zur when his wife was suddenly diagnosed with brain cancer. Concerned that his then three year-old son would miss out on a lasting relationship/connection with his mother, Zur left his job of five years as Chief Executive Officer at Meitav Dash(TASE member), one of the leading and largest investment houses in Israel, to create SafeBeyond.
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