RIP? Social Media Life After Death

RIP? Social Media Life After Death

If you’ve ever wished you could text someone who has passed away and receive a response, that technology is alive and well on its way to becoming mainstream.

CNNTech reported on an AI entrepreneur’s efforts to bring her friend back to life. In 2015, Eugenia Kuyda, who had been working on an AI startup for two years, enlisted the help of a developer on her team for a project. The two drew from her friend Roman’s digital presence — text messages, tweets and Facebook posts — to inform their work on his vocabulary, tone and expressions. What resulted was a computerized chatbot imbued with Roman’s personality.

Quartz affirms that the “technology to create convincing digital surrogates of the dead” is here and rapidly evolving, with possible mainstream viability within a decade. Like Kuyda, Hossein Rahnama, a Ryerson University media professor visiting at the MIT Media Lab, is also developing the technology, which he calls “augmented eternity.”

Rahnama states:

“Fifty or 60 years from now, [millennials] will have reached a point in their lives where they each will have collected zettabytes [1 trillion gigabytes] of data, which is just what is needed to create a digital version of yourself.”

While the advancement of this technology vacillates between cathartic and creepy, Quartz raises the matters of the ethics of bereavement and the privacy of the deceased.

“Speaking with a loved one evokes a powerful emotional response. The ability to do so in the wake of their death will inevitably affect the human process of grieving in ways we’re only beginning to explore.”

In 2016, Digital Trends reported on proposed California legislation that would include a three-stage process for what to do with social media accounts when users have died.

  • Stage 1: If previous arrangements have been made with a social media platform, these will be followed.
  • Stage 2: If no arrangements have been made, then instructions in a will, trust, power of attorney or other legal documents will be followed.
  • Stage 3: With no prior settings or instructions in place, then the social media platform’s terms of service will apply.

The fall 2015 edition of the Northwestern Journal of Technology and Intellectual Property also explored the matter of protecting privacy after death. It proposed:

“Courts could extend existing tort law to a deceased person’s digital assets to recognize that a person’s right to privacy survives death. Recognition that a deceased person has an enforceable right to privacy is the best way to protect an individual’s right to privacy after death.”

Just as “augmented eternity” continues to develop, so, too, do the ethics and laws around social media after death.

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