On July 28, 2010, Ivy Bean, who at 104 was considered the world’s oldest Twitter user, died peacefully in her sleep.
At the time of her death Bean had some 60,000 followers, and for the previous fortnight updates on her condition had been made by friends and family. When she died, it was announced quickly on Twitter and further statements regarding Ivy’s funeral and donations were made for the following week or so.
Ivy’s death received coverage around the world, and while labelling her as a celebrity might be stretching it a little, she was certainly much-loved and a figure very much in the public eye. She had a fan base, and those members were kept informed of her passing.
If you’re famous, chances are your death will be reported on Twitter, whether you’re a member of the network or not. But what about everybody else?
What happens when you die? Is there somebody you can rely upon to let everybody in your social network know what has happened? Would they know what to do if it happened now? Do they have your logins and passwords? Would they know what to say, and who (and where) to say it to?
And how quickly does it need to be said? Serious question: what’s the correct etiquette here? How many updates does the average person’s death need? Should the accounts of the dead ultimately be deleted – Twitter’s own policy says they have the right to do this with inactive users after a certain period of time – or should they be left alone as a kind of digital headstone?
Ultimately Twitter will likely need fresh policy here, but we’ve all seen how badly Facebook handles this kind of stuff.
(Incidentally, if you ever needed another reason to remove any kind of auto-tweeting connections on your Twitter profile, your eventual demise is as good as any. How bad is that going to look?)
As the line between off and online life continues to blur, the same preparations and guidelines we leave in the event of our passing need to be applied to the virtual world, too. It can’t be too long until this becomes a normal addition to any will.
This is perhaps a subject that nobody likes to think about, but it’s a reality, and one that can force itself upon us at any moment. Like you, I plan to live forever, but just in case the worst happens, what preparations can you take to ensure that the people who care about you don’t just think you disappeared?
(And if you think this is ridiculous and your followers wouldn’t care, then you need to find different followers.)
UPDATE: Twitter has some official policy on this, and even offers a facility to backup a deceased love one’s tweets. God only knows how long you can expect to wait for a response, however.