With social media, so much of our interactions with the world now live online, even after we may not be living at all. Brooke talks to James Norris, the founder of the website Deadsocial about prolonging social media relationships after death.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: With social media, so much of our interactions with the world now live online, even after we may not be living at all. But how do you handle your online presence posthumously. In Oklahoma, there’s a law that allows estate executors access to the departed’s online accounts. But at last week’s SXSW, James Norris launched a website called DeadSoci.al, which allows people to posthumously update their social media. James, welcome to the show.
JAMES NORRIS: Thanks a lot. Thanks for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay, so how did you come up with the idea of DeadSoci.al?
JAMES NORRIS: In England, there was a very well-known talk show host and comedian called Bob Monkhouse. A few years ago, before he passed away, he created a video about prostate cancer and it was only shown after he’d passed away.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In that public service announcement, he says, “Four years ago I died.”
BOB MONKHOUSE: Just when you thought it was safe to turn on your TV again, here I am. Gosh! Four years already. Doesn’t time fly? What killed me kills one man per hour in Britain. That’s even more than my wife’s cooking. Ha-ha-ha. Let’s face it, as a comedian I died many deaths.
[SOUND UP AND UNDER]
Prostate cancer, I don’t recommend.
JAMES NORRIS: It’s such a powerful message and video, and soon after, I came up with an idea, initially, a Twitter hack called GraveTweeter. You would create a series of Tweets that would only be send out once you’d passed away. Since then, I’ve evolved the offering hugely, and now it addresses it in a much more delicate way and in a much more suitable way that should appeal to the general population who’s online and active within different social networks.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How does DeadSoci.al know you’re dead?
JAMES NORRIS: A user will need to give access to somebody who they know, love or trust. They would then be able to start the mechanism rolling once you’ve passed away.
We are building a separate mechanism, The Dead Man’s Switch, which will be a user-defined amount of time. Say, for example, a user uses Facebook every day, they may say, right, if I’m – don’t log into Facebook over the course of a week, I may be on holiday. If it’s a month, then yeah, I’m – I’m probably dead, but –
But if it’s two months or, or whatever the user thinks is relevant for them, they will be sent an email asking them to please confirm that they’re still with us. If they don’t respond after the second email, that’s when the messages will be sent out.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: If you have left the determination of your death to DeadSoci.al, DeadSoci.al will send you a couple of emails before making it official.
JAMES NORRIS: That’s correct, yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And then what does it do?
JAMES NORRIS: It allows you to send out a series of scheduled messages to your Facebook, Twitter and Google+ account which will — really allows you to extend your digital legacy. It allows you to amplify the voice and the, the personality that you had in life. There’s no reason why, once we’ve passed away, that we should stop being able to send out information and distribute content and make people not only aware but keep them up to date with –
-with our – how we, how we used to live and, and how we were.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Keep them up to date with how we used to live, that’s just plain strange, James.
JAMES NORRIS: Mm —
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The people who are excited by this, what do they say they want to use it for?
JAMES NORRIS: Well, that’s the thing. It – it’s totally down to the individual. Some people will want to say their final goodbyes. Some people may want to have a virtual relationship with their unborn grandchildren.
There’s a plethora of different ways in which the platform can be used, and these range from your simple daily interactions to something that’s more secretive or more exciting or more kind of sensitive that possibly wasn’t able to be said at the time.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Things like, “Here’s where I buried all that money?”
JAMES NORRIS: If only, yes. [LAUGHS]
Now, if that material has been created solely for distribution after the individual has passed away, then the strength and the power and the poignancy of whatever message is said is amplified tenfold.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, right now DeadSoci.al allows you to update Google+, Facebook and so on, but 10, 20, 30 years from now, those platforms may not exist. What happens to DeadSoci.al then?
JAMES NORRIS: All of the information that’s sent out is also made available on the user’s private DeadSoci.al account. If new social platforms are made available and the user is still alive, then we will allow them to integrate the next big social network into DeadSoci.al. If not, it would be unethical and immoral for us to create a account on their behalf.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What about my great-grandchild? If the right to my information passes down to her, can she go converting it to new social platforms?
JAMES NORRIS: Yeah. I mean, if – if –ooh, ooh! Um –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Did I just give you an inspiration?
JAMES NORRIS: You did, yeah.
It’s – um, he or she could, by all means, create an account on a social network that’s still to be launched.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So the response to all this has been phenomenal, but a decent part of this response has relied heavily on the word “creepy.” [LAUGHS] What do you think about that?
JAMES NORRIS: In the western world, we’re awful at approaching death. Death approaches us before we approach it. I fully understand why the word “creepy” has been used. However, when you benchmark that against the value of receiving the messages, I think the word will be diluted with other words much more pleasant going forward.
If we’re lucky, on our deathbed, we may be able to say goodbye to our family and our close friends. But we’ve got wider communities now. By integrating DeadSoci.al into your digital will, if you like, you’re really able to say those goodbyes. Whether it’s a traditional kind of farewell goodbye, or whether it’s more tailored and personal to individuals, again, it’s really down to the user.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay James, thanks very much.
JAMES NORRIS: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: James Norris is the creator of DeadSoci.al, on the Web at d-e-a-d-s-o-c-i-dot-a-l.
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