May You Tweet In Peace: Social Media Beyond The Grave
What happens after we die? For millennia it's been both a question and a debate among mortal humans, but in the 21st century, there's a new twist: What happens to our social media life once we've left this earth (and does the afterlife have Wi-Fi)?
Facebook memorializes accounts of the deceased, while Twitter deactivates accounts upon receiving a death certificate from the immediate family or a person handling the estate. The U.S. government has updated its guidelines for writing a will with instructions about choosing someone you can trust to do what you wish with your social media accounts when you're gone.
But does your social media life have to die with you? Apparently not: A few companies are building services to maintain your online presence once you're six feet under.
DeadSoci.al, which went live on Friday, is a service that socks away Facebook and Twitter messages on set future dates, for things such as birthdays, special occasions or to continue jokes beyond the grave.
One of its founders, James Norris, got the idea for DeadSoci.al while watching a television ad: It features the late comedian Bob Monkhouse looking over his grave and talking about what a pity it is that he's now gone because of prostate cancer.
That got Norris thinking. Monkhouse is immortal through his fame and now through an ad that was released after he died. Norris felt that there should be such a service for people who have unfinished business when they die.
"Now people can extend their social legacy," Norris said. "This shouldn't be exclusive to celebrities that are of value."
if i die is another example of socked-away messages, but the company's Facebook app has a different way of appealing to users. Both if i die and DeadSoci.al advertise their companies as a way to stay connected in the afterlife, but if i die extends the opportunity for world fame: When you sign up, you can make a message for the world. The first person to die among those who signed up will have their message released on Mashable "as well as on various international TV networks and websites ensuring you extensive, international exposure," the voiceover explains in the if i die ad.
_LivesOn takes it a step further. It's advertising as a tool to tweet for you in your afterlife.
The project — a collaboration between the Lean Mean Fighting Machine ad agency and Queen Mary, University of London — originally intended the service as something for the living: A Twitter user could create a second identity (twittername_liveson) as a private account that would track the user's tweets online. As the second account came to know your habits, it would predict what you would favorite or retweet and do it for you. The idea is at the end of the day, you can log onto your _LivesOn and see the tweets that are most important to you.
The project started in 2011 and resurfaced after a popular British show, "Black Mirror," debuted the idea of tweeting from the grave. Now, _LivesOn's tag line is "When your heart stops beating, you'll keep tweeting."
"We benefited really well going off the 'Black Mirror,' but the negative side was that people think that we're just about death," said Dave Bedwood, creative partner for Lean Mean Fighting Machine. "We're focused on the living, but (in theory) you might be able to create something for the dead."
The project is still undergoing testing in the U.K. and Bedwood wasn't sure when it would be released to the public.
So it seems while we were preoccupied with the zombie apocalypse and The Walking Dead, it's the tweeting dead that may actually become a part of our reality.
Lizzy Duffy is an intern on NPR's Social Media Desk.