Facebook advise that they now have over 1.25 billion account owners. It is estimated that there are over 17 million users in Canada and the over age 65 age group is the fastest growing segment. It is also estimated that 30 million facebook account owners have died and 10% have memorial pages. These are very large numbers for something that is in its infancy. I have been following some of the research on the social impact of the digital afterlife and here is what I have found.
• Michael Massimi Ph.D. and Ronald Baecker Ph.D. performed a study about how bereaved families use technology. On the inheriting/remembering side, they found that 79% of the respondents highly value mementos and reminders of deceased individuals. Furthermore, 54% believe that digital reminders are just as meaningful as physical photos etc. However, the study also asked the respondents about their own digital estate, and found that 79% of the respondents either did not consider or overlooked the distribution of their digital assets. Perhaps even more interesting was that 46% of the respondents indicated they had files on their computer which they would not want to share with their family.
• A larger group of researchers (William Odom, Richard Banks, Richard Harper, David Kirk, Sian Lindley and Abigail Sellen) assembled from the Carnegie Mellon University, Microsoft Research Cambridge, and Newcastle University, performed a social experiment in which the passing down and inheriting of digital material, was studied. Almost right away they noted the challenge of the sheer size and scale of digital content. Ultimately they concluded that better technology will be required to ”better support the range of experiences that come with inheriting, living with and passing down treasured digital possessions over time and across generations.”.
• Rhonda McEwen and Kathleen Scheaffer from the University of Toronto, studied the online practices of grieving and mourning. In this study they concluded that there should be more facebook options largely initiated by the account owner at the time of sign –up.
In other words, dealing with social media in an estate planning context is still in a state of change.