Managing Online Identities for the Deceased

October 29th, 2013  |  Published in Projects

Research Team: Jed Brubaker, Lynn Dombrowski, Marie Gilbert, Nafiri Kusumakaulka, and Gillian Hayes

The death of a loved one can be a challenging time for survivors who are left to manage the deceased’s affairs. In many cases, our increasing amount of online data is exacerbating this issue. Our social media lives create vast quantities of personal data that remain after we die. However, these data are not like other assets that we include in wills or testaments. They are connected to a large number of friends who survive us, all with diverse needs.

We are currently investigating the challenges and responsibilities for survivors when managing the online accounts of the deceased. Some survivors value spaces such as Facebook accounts, and continue to interact with profiles, access photos, and share memories of the deceased with other friends. Other might prefer to see these online spaces shut down or deleted. This raises questions about who should manage our accounts after we die, and how should they gain access. Through interview and design-based research, we are investigating the diverse needs of survivors and exploring potential solutions to aid people during particularly trying times.


Photo credit: Boris Meister

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