I saw a tweet from Roger Ebert this morning, which seemed odd since he died in April. This wasn’t the first postmortem tweet I’d seen from Roger Ebert. His wife Chaz has been managing his account. Still, the name on the tweets is “Roger Ebert,” which I find disconcerting. If a person becomes a social media brand what should happen to their accounts after they die? Should there be a digital afterlife?
Google has an inactive account manager that allows you to release your data to others after a period of inactivity (presumably your death). Other services will share your passwords after you die. Some people just leave passwords in an envelope in a safe deposit box for loved ones to find.
Having someone take over your accounts shortly after you die can be helpful for informing people of your death, getting in touch with important contacts and dealing with unfinished business, but what about after that? Is it creepy for your avatar to still show up in people’s feeds well after you have passed away?
Of course the implications of a digital afterlife for someone like Roger Ebert is different than for most of us. His Twitter account has over 800,000 followers. RogerEbert.com is a popular website. Roger Ebert the man may have died, but his brand lives on. It can be disconcerting.
I believe in a digital legacy not a a digital afterlife. Let the brand live on, but for heaven’s sake change the name from “Roger Ebert.” Unless, of course, the tweets are actually from Roger. If that’s the case, Roger, give us a sign! Move this penny! (Roger Ebert gave Ghost 2 and a half stars.)
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