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Your Social Media Legacy: Pre-Planning On Twitter

April 16, 2021
What happens to your Twitter account when you die? Discover the pre-planning tools available to help you protect your digital legacy.
Written By Sharon HartungApril 16, 2021

With Jack Dorsey looking to sell his first tweet as an NFT, what better time to talk about Twitter and its legacy features?

Twitter’s pre-planning features and tools are limited, to stay the least. This means Jack Dorsey, among many others, will likely have an estate planning problem down the road.

Twitter can serve many purposes. For myself, it continues to serve as a valuable resource for research and for connecting with other fellow pioneers in the #estatetech and digital assets realm. And for others, like Dorsey, it can even serve as a source of revenue. However you use Twitter, your posts and profiles will live on long after you do, unless you have a plan in place.

This post is part of a series that will dive deep into each major social media platform and break down the pre-planning tools and features available and how to use them. Read on to learn more about pre-planning on Twitter.

Twitter’s Legacy Features

Twitter has one option for your account when you pass away: You can choose to have your account closed. If you don’t choose this option, your account lives on in perpetuity.

So, if Twitter currently only offers the option to close your account after you die, what happens to Dorsey’s $2.9 million NFT if his account disappears?

Whether you use it personally, professionally, or as part of a business, situations like Dorsey’s are happening more frequently and have opened the digital afterlife Pandora’s Box when it comes to Twitter and legacy planning.

In the area of pre-planning, Twitter has some work to do.

How Twitter handles an account when someone dies

As mentioned, Twitter doesn’t currently have any pre-planning tools with respect to addressing an account holder’s wishes and preferences upon death. And the options for what happens after death are painfully limited—the only choice is for a Twitter account to be deactivated and deleted.

To make matters even more complicated, there is no mechanism that allows another person to inform or alert Twitter that someone has passed away, other than the more formal path of requesting an account be deactivated.

To do this, a family member or personal representative (such as an executor) has to provide the necessary information, including:

  • A copy of the authorized person’s ID
  • Information about the deceased
  • A death certificate of the deceased

As it stands, Twitter has the growing problem of not knowing how to deal with its dead. This can become an even bigger issue when dealing with high-profile accounts that become vulnerable to abuse and cyber-bullying.

Twitter’s Social Legacy Score

Considering there are 500 Million Tweets posted per day, Twitter has the bare minimum with respect to dealing with a deceased or incapacitated account holder and it boils down to only one page of help. That’s why Twitter is one of the lowest scoring platforms, receiving only a 2 out of 5.

Twitter gets a Social Legacy Score of 2 out of 5

Offering a score of 2 is actually being #generous. Any information about the topic of legacy planning in Twitter’s help section is pretty light in comparison to other social media platforms.

But I’ll give credit where it’s due and Twitter does a couple of things well.

  1. Twitter does have a policy with respect to sharing photos and images of a deceased person; and,
  2. For the features it does offer, they have incorporated actual estate planning terminology, such as “person authorized to act on behalf of the estate”.

However, similar to other platforms like, Facebook, I am seeing Twitter use a variety of terms that aren’t clearly defined: For example, “close an account”, “deactivate”, “request the removal of a deceased user’s account”, and “removal of user’s account”.

See how the other social platforms stack up:

Now, let’s dive deeper into what is (and isn’t) available in terms of pre-planning on Twitter.

How Twitter handles accounts if someone becomes incapacitated

Twitter only has the option to deal with incapacity once an account holder is already incapacitated.

Twitter will deactivate an account if an “authorized person” requests it. To request deletion of an account of someone who’s incapacitated, the authorized person needs to provide:

  • Information about the account holder
  • A copy of the authorized person’s ID
  • A copy of the account holder’s ID
  • A copy of a Power of Attorney authorizing the individual to act on the account holder’s behalf

It is not clear if a deactivated account means it is closed permanently or if it can be reactivated if the person regains capacity. I’d assume they could use the option to “request reactivation” in the “Account Access” area of the Help section.

Something to note, however, is at the time of writing this article, the “Request the removal of an incapacitated user’s account” option sends you to a privacy policy page, not directly to the form. I feel the path to file the actual request could be more clear and straightforward.

Other legacy planning considerations for Twitter

Social media experts recommend considering a separate Twitter account if you have a business.

Twitter makes it relatively easy to access multiple accounts on their app. Given the only choices for legacy planning are offered after the fact, you should consider how you want the content of your tweets preserved and make sure to let your executor or fiduciary know.

Since memorialization is not an option on Twitter yet, backing up and sharing content using other methods is recommended.

Sharing passwords is a big no-no

There is a lot of misinformation out there that recommends password swapping. Password sharing is not an effective estate planning approach for a variety of legal, technical, and practical reasons. Twitter’s Terms of Service (ToS) are not as explicit as some others when it comes to password sharing, stating that:

“You are responsible for safeguarding your account, so use a strong password and limit its use to this account.”, and “Twitter gives you a personal, worldwide, royalty-free, non-assignable and non-exclusive license to use the software provided to you as part of the Services.”

According to Dave Michels, of the Cloud Legal Project,

Taken together, I would interpret this as Twitter granting you a personal right of access and (at least implicitly) banning password sharing. That said, it’s not as explicit as other ToS
Dave Michels

What to do if a loved one passes away

Twitter will allow you to deactivate an account if you’re “a person authorized to act on behalf of the estate or a verified immediate family member of the deceased.”

The term “deactivated”, however, is not clearly stated on their website. As you select the drop-down to do so, it says “deactivate or close my account”. And when you visit this Help page and try to select “Request the removal of a deceased user’s account”, it leads to a privacy policy page, not a form, which makes the path forward unclear.

How Twitter could improve its Social Legacy Score

Twitter has a long way to go when it comes to providing legacy and pre-planning features for its account holders. As it stands, there is only one page in the Help section detailing any measures, and instructions are unclear and confusing.

And it’s not like Twitter hasn’t run into issues with this in the past — the platform had its own estate planning debacle in November of 2019. When Twitter announced it would delete inactive accounts, a tweetstorm ensued with many people extremely upset that they might lose their loved ones’ posts forever. Twitter hadn’t considered some people view their loved ones’ Twitter accounts as a digital memory book and quickly had to do an about-face.

 

It’s definitely optimistic to hear they plan on developing a way for people to memorialize the accounts of deceased users; however, there hasn’t been any such feature announced since this Tweet in 2019. From a consumer awareness perspective, some road map of their memorialization or future plans is long overdue.

Time to make a Social Media Will

There is clearly a need to fill the legacy planning gaps left by social media service providers. That’s why I’m so happy to have worked alongside Epilogue on the development the Social Media Will. The Social Media Will lets you document how you want your profiles handled if you can no longer manage them yourself.

Just answer some simple questions and you’ll have a document that can be stored with your Will and easily shared with your executor or fiduciary. It’s quick, easy, and best of all, free of charge. Make your Social Media Will today and protect your social afterlife

Other Resources for Twitter

  • Learn how to contact Twitter about a deceased family member’s account here.
  • Find the form to request the deactivation of a deceased or incapacitated account holder here.
Written By Sharon Hartung
Sharon Hartung, Captain (Ret’d), PEng, TEP, is the founder of Your Digital Undertaker®, which provides Digital Executor® webinars and consulting for advisors and clients on the tech management aspects of digital assets in estate planning. Sharon is the author of “Your Digital Undertaker” and soon to be published “Digital Executor®: Unraveling the New Path for Estate Planning”. Sharon is a committee member on the STEP Digital Assets SIG. Twitter @Undertakertech and website: Your Digital Undertaker