Twitter today posted a new policy entitled “How to Contact Twitter About a Deceased User” (possibly at the suggestion of social media marketer Adele McAlear or a not-so recent Gizmodo post?), and while we think it’s absolutely fantastic that they’ve made themselves open and approachable to the concept, we also have deep concerns over both their policy and the potential precedent. Here’s the nutshell of it:
If we are notified that a Twitter user has passed away, we can remove their account or assist family members in saving a backup of their public Tweets.
Please contact us with the following information:
- Your full name, contact information (including email address), and your relationship to the deceased user.
- The username of the Twitter account, or a link to the profile page of the Twitter account.
- A link to a public obituary or news article.
Please note that we cannot allow access to the account or disclose other non-public information regarding the account.
Sounds good at first pass, right? Not good enough in our books – no offense, team Twitter! Here’s the problem – this policy lacks the concept of desired intent. What if an individual wanted their Twitter stream archived (and not just by the Library of Congress)? What if another user wanted it wiped out (a challenge with any service, we acknowledge) completely? What about someone tweeting anonymously? What about any situation wherein the desires of the user who dies are in conflict with those who support them, or a conflict within the surviving family members?
The “what about” lists of questions can go on forever, and it’s this type of question that gets us encouraging everyone to set up some kind of digital will that explicitly outlines desired intent for any component of online identity. This is a new kind of issue that never existed before the world of self-publishing and the Internet. Most people couldn’t create publicly accessible content prior to consumer access of the Internet. If you were on TV “back in the day”, someone other than you owned the rights to the content (unless you were some kind of major personality, and even then…). But online, anyone can become a content stream of some kind, and we all have different thoughts and interests as to what should happen with this content.
The situation with Twitter seems fairly innocuous until you apply this kind of logic across broader content platforms. I’ve personally created tweets, Facebook status updates, video podcasts, blog posts, and many other pieces of content over the years. The only person who can make a conscious choice about that content today is me. The people who could control that content if I perished without warning could include my wife, my kids (when they are older), my parents, etc. Even more important to consider: their wishes may be radically different in ten years than they would be in the short term.
As I said in my recent interview with AFP:
“Today, you get a shoe box full of pictures; tomorrow you will get a Flickr account,” Toeman said. “Today, you get a diary; tomorrow you will get a blog.”
It is essential that leaders in the tech industry avoid making policy decisions without deeply considering the impact. Our team is spending a significant amount of time focused on this exact issue – what will people want to look back on, ten, twenty, fifty years from now? It’s a hard topic to get your head around, but we’d love to hear other thoughts or comments here on our blog!
Jeremy Toeman, CEO and Founder, Legacy Locker