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Twitter details what families can do with accounts of deceased users

August 10, 2010 |  4:03 pm


Families typically know what to do with the belongings of loved ones who've died, but what do you do with their Twitter accounts? With 145 million users -- and adding 300,000 new ones each day -- a surprising number of families are left with this befuddling question, not only for Twitter but for other social networks.

Recently, Twitter took out the guesswork and posted its policy for handling accounts of deceased users on its website.

"It's always been our policy internally that people could write in about deceased users. We made it more public-facing last week due to user inquiries," said Del Harvey, a Twitter spokeswoman, in an e-mail to The Times.

The San Francisco-based company requires that family members send their contact information, relationship to the deceased and a news article or obituary for proof of death either by e-mail, mail or fax, which is similar to Facebook Inc.'s policy on the matter. Then, per their requests, Twitter says it will help family members obtain a backup of the deceased person's public Tweets, which are messages of 140 characters or less, or delete the account completely.

"If an account is removed from Twitter, it will no longer be publicly visible and will be automatically slated for complete removal from the Twitter system," Harvey said.

If family members decide not to delete it, the account will "exist in the same way" and people would still be able to follow it.

On Facebook, accounts of deceased users are identified as such.

Those accounts also could show up in the "who to follow" suggestion box, which is something that Twitter may not have much control over since it is based on a variety of automated algorithms, including who you follow and who those people follow.

But both Twitter and Facebook, which added its 500-millionth user last month, are clear about one thing: No one, not even family members, can access a deceased person's account.

-- Kristena Hansen

Photo: Ivy Bean, who died July 28 at age 104, was acknowledged as Britain's oldest user of Twitter. Bean started her Twitter feed in 2008 and amassed more than 56,000 followers. Credit: Associated Press