Consider it a sign of the times, or even just success that Twitter now has a policy in place to handle ownership of a user's account once they've died.
As expected, interested parties need to send in several pieces of information about how they relate to that person before Twitter will take action. Once the proper credentials have been sent to the company (via e-mail or snail mail), Twitter is then able to do one of two things: either remove a deceased user's account entirely, or provide an archive of all that user's tweets so family members can access them offline.
According to the new policy page, the steps required to get to either of these options include:
1. Your full name, contact information (including e-mail address), and your relationship to the deceased user.
2. The username of the Twitter account, or a link to the profile page of the Twitter account.
3. A link to a public obituary or news article.
Jeremy Toeman, who is the CEO and founder of Legacy Locker--a site that acts as a digital safe for things like Web site log-ins, and messages to family members that can be accessed after a person dies--thinks Facebook's relationship requirements just aren't good enough. In a post on Legacy Locker's company blog Toeman notes:
"This policy lacks the concept of desired intent. What if an individual wanted their Twitter stream archived (and not just by the Library of Congress)? What if another user wanted it wiped out (a challenge with any service, we acknowledge) completely? What about any situation wherein the desires of the user who dies are in conflict with those who support them, or a conflict within the surviving family members?"
Those certainly aren't easy questions, which is why Toeman suggests that users not rely on Twitter, or other online social services like it, to create more comprehensive postmortem policies that can factor in these kind of potential problems. Instead, Toeman suggests supplementing those safeguards with the use of Toeman's own service, which lets users write down their log-in information, and explicit wishes for what to do with various online accounts after they've passed away.
Coming back around to Twitter's new policy though--how does it compare to Facebook's, which has?
Facebook's system has two options for the deceased: either removing their account, or "memorializing" it. Unlike Twitter's options, memorializing means the account lives on in Facebook's system, and other Facebook members can interact with the deceased member's wall.
What's interesting about what Facebook put into place, compared to Twitter, is that there's still a great deal of emphasis put on privacy and what can be done with the information that user has posted to the service. For instance, only that user's friends can still visit the profile or find it in Facebook's public search tool. And Facebook goes so far as to remove all status updates and contact information, as well as bar that user from showing up in the company's advertising or communication nags.
A more notable security measure on the Facebook front, compared to Twitter, is that it also keeps future log-ins of that user from occurring, meaning friends, family members, or any third parties that have access to the credentials cannot continue to use the account as they could have before. This runs counter to the thinking over at Legacy Locker, but takes the onus off the company for having to juggle who has access, or in putting that responsibility back on Facebook.
Given the Web's relatively short existence and people's penchant for hopping from one social service to another, it's hard to imagine Facebook and Twitter remaining as important a part of users' lives 30 years from now as they are today. But that doesn't mean policies like the ones mentioned above shouldn't exist. If anything they should be spelled out as clearly as possible, with lots of tools and options available for family members--especially in the area of recapturing uploaded content. Facebook has gone from 300 million to 500 million users in less than a year, with few signs of that slowing down, and with any growth like that (and to some degree, Twitter's as well) policies about a user's death can end up being just as important as those you agree to when you first sign up.
Related: Taking passwords to the grave