Twitter has recently announced that they intend to start reclaiming unused usernames unless the accounts are logged into at least once every 6 months. Almost as soon as they announced it, the citizens of the Web lost their collective minds and the policy was paused until Twitter could figure out a way to “memorialise” accounts.
I was fascinated by the outpouring from the distraught and bereaved of the internet. People sharing stories of parents or partners that would scroll back through tweets to remind themselves of their lost ones.
It got me thinking: when I die, people will start to sort out my bank accounts and my possessions. All these things are par for the course when tidying up someone’s estate; but what about my digital footprint? The files on my laptop. My blog. My social media accounts.
If we were still living in the pre-Internet era, the things worth keeping would be journals, photos, trinkets and furniture. You’d live on through “stuff”. Physical objects. But we don’t live in those times anymore, and as fond as I am of my IKEA furniture and assortment of lapel pin badges, the stuff worth keeping if I died isn’t found in my flat: it’s found in the cloud. Whilst it won’t clutter up a garage, rot, rust or decay, it does need sorting out, not least because like most people’s real homes, my digital house is also full of junk.
Some things worth keeping
There are some things I hope someone will take the time to keep. Take my website for example; the one you’re probably reading this on. At the time of writing it contains things I’ve written all the way back to 2010. It represents large chunks of my brain, personality, and life’s work.1 It represents the best of me. Without someone paying the domain name fees and keeping the hosting going though, it will eventually just vanish.
Then there are my photos. I take a lot of photos. I delete a lot of photos. So many, in fact, that there are entire years of my life where I have no photos at all. My collection of pictures is highly curated, and the ones I keep or publish online are truly the ones I think I should keep for decades. When I die, you won’t find boxes full of old prints, but you will find a digital treasure trove of nice pictures worth keeping.
If I ever get around to finally making a podcast or writing a book? Keep those things too.
If I’m honest though, most of my digital footprint should disappear because it’s not worth keeping. Which brings me to what I immediately thought when I saw the backlash against the recycling of accounts and using Twitter in the grieving process.
Don’t memorialise me on social media
The thing I found most unsettling about the backlash on the issue of account recycling was that it was, for want of a better word, selfish. Much of the outpouring and reporting didn’t ask about what the deceased would have wanted to be done with their digital footprint, but instead asked about the bereaved2. Clearly it is impossible to know now but I don’t think every person that has passed — or even many people that have — would want their trash-talk, their 3am escapades and their hot takes on last season’s X-Factor forever preserved in this internet-era aspic.
Which brings me to what I want. Whatever else happens to my digital assets when I finally tap out: don’t memorialise my accounts on social media.
I literally can’t think of anything I’d want to see less than a performative outpouring of emotion forever plastered all over my accounts. By all means, use your own accounts to tweet a eulogy, but don’t turn my accounts into a digital tombstone.
In fact, delete them. Erase them all. Expunge my social media from the internet. It’s just noise; I only want clear, curated signal left behind. Keep something of me that matters, not the daft musings bashed out in fewer than 280 characters.
A digital will, of sorts
At some point I’ll get round to writing a proper will. Something that will be legally binding and divvy up my assets. Until then consider this a digital will, of sorts. A will that’s specifically about my digital assets.
And my request is pretty simple really: if I conk out any time soon, keep the best stuff, delete the ephemeral junk and, for the love of God, don’t memorialise me on Twitter.
Random side note: I have an Google Analytics account linked to this site so I can see what people look at, and it still amazes me how many people come looking for my old university essays. Presumably the questions have remained the same for coursework at my alma matter and people go looking for inspiration, but it just goes to show the value of publishing things in the open sometimes. ↩
I’m not saying the needs of the bereaved aren’t important — of course they are — but they shouldn’t be our only concern. The least you should be able to expect when you die is that people are thinking about your wishes, I think. ↩