In class recently, we talked about how social media accounts should handle deceased member accounts. The conversation came up because of a recent death amongst the faculty at CSUMB. The professor passed away, and through Facebook postings, it became known that this professor passed away because of suicide. This information was displayed on a public platform and then ended up being talked about by a different person in Kansas.
This idea of deceased people on the social web is a 21st-century dilemma that is interesting to think about. What is the correct protocol? Should there be laws that enforce social media companies to enforce in the case of deceased members?
This is another area that reflects the gap between laws, ethics, and technology.
The first question I can think of is the question of whether there should be a law. The second question is that if there is a law, what would that law make mandatory for social sites to implement. Would it only be social sites? What about other on-line services?
It becomes hard to regulate because it’s hard to stop people from sharing content. Even if there were laws in place, people would still find loopholes to share sensitive information during a timeframe that wouldn’t be deemed as illegal. There seems to be a lot of policing efforts that are needed by third party digital dead services. Perhaps that will be a necessity and software or APIs will be created to make socially agreed upon norms for handling such cases.
Chances are that companies with influence, net worth, and power will shape how these potential digital death laws are implemented. In which case, there is a potential for companies making biased decisions that can increase their revenue. Depending on the company, information that is made unavailable to the public could be horted by them. I could see a company knowing that a person is dead use it as a marketing opportunity for the friends. Perhaps the friends of the deceased person will be targeted with ads related to relevant products to cope with the loss, or funeral friendly attire or something.
In any case, more thought needs to be given to digital death and what can an can’t be used by companies after the person’s death.