The Second Death Online Research Symposium Takes Place Next Week

Next week the second Death Online Research Symposium will take place in London and I'll take part in it. 
The book of abstracts can be found here

You can follow live updates during it by following the hashtag #DORS2 in social networks in general, or by following the Facebook page or Twitter of the symposium, or the Facebook page and Twitter of the blog (August 17th-18th 2015). 

I attended the first Death Online Research Symposium which took place in Durham in April 2014. You can find my summary of it here and here. A summary of the papers presented in it can be found here

I'm looking forward to meeting Digital Death experts from all over the world in person. The previous symposium broadened the scope for me of what 'Digital Death' is. I'm curious to see whom shall I meet and what shall I learn this time. I'll keep you posted. 


Google Updated Their Answer Regarding Accounts of Deceased Users!

I happened to click on this good, old, familiar Google link, only to find out it no longer looks like this: 

Nor like this: 

But like this: 

Google now offers us to choose one of the following: 
  • Close the account of a deceased user
  • Submit a request for funds from a deceased user's account
  • Obtain data from a deceased user's account
  • Notify Google that a user is deceased 
  • Resolve a potential hijacking of a deceased user's account
  • Make plans for what should happen to my own account 
Well done, Google! 
Now all that stands between you and me being happy with you, Google, is for you to actively notify your users about being able to manage their future inactive account, and for that service to also include the possibility of granting access or password, and not just a copy. 


A New Digital Death Video Went Online in Youtube

The good news: there is a new Digital Death video. 
The bad news: it's not entirely accurate, and do stop watching at 03:20 when it turns into a commercial :\ . 

At 02:24 he says "gmail will allow a user you designate to access your account", which isn't true, assuming he's referring to Google's Inactive Account Manager. You can't grant someone access to your account nor can you bequeath your password through this service. What you can do is allow a designated person or people to get a copy of the content of your account - in all of Google's products, not just gmail, through a link they get and can download from. But getting a copy and getting access are two different things. And the people you designate can't get access, only copy. 
If he's not referring to Google's Inactive Account Manager but to their general policy regarding accounts of deceased people, you can choose to request to "obtain data from a deceased user's account". There isn't however an option to "obtain access to a deceased user's account", so what he said remains incorrect. 

Another, although smaller mistake (at 01:26), is that Facebook does not turn a profile into a page when they memorialize it - they turn it into a memorialized profile. And, Legacy Contact feature is not yet available world wide: so far you can only use it in the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, to the best of my knowledge. 

Other than that - it's good that another video exists as it helps raise awareness to this important subject, I just wish it was also more precise in the information it was conveying. 


More Ways to Digitally Die

Digital Death has numerous, varied angles. Some of them don't even involve a person dying! 
Here are two examples: 

An article published in Gizmodo in July 2015: Capital Control Cuts Off Greek Access to iTunes, iCloud, and PayPal

"Imagine trying to buy a song on iTunes, but finding your credit card payment blocked. You can’t pay your cloud storage subscription, either, even though you have the money. Apple just won’t accept your card, and you’re about to lose most of your files".

"That’s the situation many people in Greece are waking up to this week in the wake of the country’s new capital control laws. ...the laws also prevent everyday consumers from making even the smallest credit payments to foreign companies, including Apple, PayPal, and other staples of online life".

So here is a case of death of digital content and assets - only a temporary one, we can hope? - which does not include a death of a person. When cloud storage gets shut down due to a payment being discontinued, I'm afraid data might be lost forever - including files of sentimental or financial value. And sometimes those lost files might be dear to us, or expensive.  

This reminds me of a story a manager of a company told me once in a meeting: 

"I changed my credit card and something didn't go right with the update. All the email accounts of the employees of the company were linked to that credit card, and one morning, suddenly, everybody was locked out of their emails. At first we were shocked, but then I suspected this might have something to do with the new credit card, so I manually updated the new credit card details, and the blocking was removed. Having met you, I now wonder: had I died and the credit card had expired at some point, would all the employees have been locked out of their accounts? Would someone know this was related to a credit card expiration, or how to fix it?" 
Probably not, which is why we should manage our digital content, assets, heritage and legacy. 

In July I also received the following whatsapp message on my phone: 

"A friend went into a difficult surgery. He came out of it in a bad shape and he can't recall any of his own passwords". 
I wanted to pull my hair out by the roots from frustration when I read this: if only there was a higher awareness of these issues, before going into surgery, amongst the many forms we were asked to fill, we would also have been advised to take care of our digital belongings before going into surgery, as we might suffer from a short or long term memory loss following it. Us ourselves might need this information to re-enter our own accounts. Sort of a letter from us in the present to us in the future: "Dear me, I hope you (I) won't be needing this information, but just in case, __________". 

So here is another example in which no one died (and I wish E. a full recovery!), and yet, he is locked out of his own accounts in addition to recovering from surgery. And if his recreational process won't succeed as hoped, him and his family will probably remain locked out of the various assets, legacy, content and heritage he has and could have been leaving behind. 


I Co-Wrote A Review Which Got Published In Germany

Dr. Katrin Döveling from the University of Leipzig, Germany, Anu Harju, Doctoral Candidate from the Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland, and I, co-wrote a review about the Death Online Research Symposium we attended in the UK last year: Researching Digital Memorial Culture and Death Online: Current Analysis and Future PerspectivesIt was published in a magazine in Germany last week: "Media & Age". 

The next Death Online Research Symposium will be held in London in August 2015. Registration is now open

My own (non-academic) summary of the previous symposium can be found in the following blog posts: Day One, Day Two


Facebook & Death - In This Case, A Murder. Warning: Not An Easy Read

There is a separate post - which is not easy to read - about The Ugly Side of Digital Death
There are two separate posts about Death in Facebook, Facebook and Death: Part One, Part Two
This post is a combination of these two topics and I must warn you it is not an easy read and the Facebook print-screens are harsh. 

In the post Death in Facebook, Facebook and Death - Part Two I told the story of 19 years old Katelyn Wolfe who was kidnapped and murdered - and her murderers posted in her name, using her own Facebook profile, after she was killed, to mask her death and maintain the illusion she was still alive. That post was later deleted from her profile

Today, the forum mydeathspace.com posted that a 48 years old woman, Claudinnea "Dee Dee" Blancharde, was found murdered in her home in Missouri and her ill 19 years old daughter, Gypsy Blancharde, who can only get by using a wheelchair or crutches (see update below), was found in Wisconsin, accompanied by a man who got arrested
In between there was a stage in which the public was asked to help find the missing mother and daughter and a Facebook group was set up: Praying for DeeDee and Gypsy (June 17th update: the group changed its privacy settings from public to closed and then from closed to secret, which is why it is no longer visible from this link). 

Why am I telling you this? 
Because the reason friends and neighbors tried to contact the two and alerted the police, is a text posted probably by the murderer through the joint Facebook profile (June 18th update: the profile is no longer visible) of the mother and daughter: "That Bitch is dead!"

Following a few wondering and concerned comments from friends, whoever posted that terrifying post from their profile commented with a horrifying comment: "I fucken SLASHED THAT FAT PIG AND RAPED HER SWEET INNOCENT DAUGHTER...HER SCREAM WAS SOOOO FUCKEN LOUD LOL" 

By now friends were genuinely concerned, went over to their house (armed) and called the police after the two failed to either answer calls to their phones or knocking on their door. 

Preliminary search of their home only discovered they were gone while their cat and car were still there, which is why they were first reported as missing. Only in further searches at the house was the body of the mother found. 

Investigation continues. 

June 17th update: 

  1. The daughter, Gypsy, is reported to have 3 dates of birth and it is uncertain how old she really is. Probably 23, though. 
  2. She has been arrested and charged with the murder of her mother - together with the guy she was found with in Wisconsin, who seems to be her 26 years old boyfriend. 
  3. The boyfriend confessed to murdering the mother - upon the daughter's request. 
  4. Gypsy confessed to being the one posting the Facebook status. 
  5. Turns out Gypsy was not as ill as her mother pretended she was, and she can get by without crutches / wheel chair. Some people are coming up with stories which suggest the mother was abusive and pretended the daughter was younger and sicker than what she really was. 
  6. Several Facebook group are now active in discussing this case: 

Further updates: 


Scattering CJ

In December 2013 a good friend of mine sent me a link accompanied by the words: 
"Are you familiar with this story yet? if not, let me warn you it's a very emotional page which has brought me to tears". 
He was right: this Facebok page has totally been worth following since, and it had brought me to tears more than once - as well as my audiences in my various talks, lessons and lectures since. 

CJ Twomey was 20 years old when he had a fight with his mother, Hallie. She thought it was just a mother-and-son argument - but he walked out of the door and shot himself. 

Hallie has been dealing both with losing her son and with knowing the last words exchanged between them were harsh. 

This page came into being in November 2013 by sharing a post originally created by Hallie in her profile: 

The original post had 40 shares from the page and 400 shares from the profile. Here are some quotes from it (John is her husband, Connor is her younger son. The phrasing of the request has been altered since somewhat, but the essence of her original request remains the same): 
"Our son did not get to see the world as he might have if he had lived. Our son did not experience travel as he might have if he had lived. Our son did not experience adventures as he might have if he had lived. 
He just didn't. And it breaks my heart. 
And it makes me want to give him these things if I can.
John and I want our beloved Shmoops to see the world, to BECOME part of a world he didn't get to see. 
We believe that CJ would be happy to know that caring and sensitive people, both friends and strangers alike, took him on an adventure and sprinkled a small portion of his ashes in places worth seeing.
We've scattered some of his ashes but we have a lot left. 
Would love to have people, through the power of social media, spread this post to see if anyone out there would be willing to take some of our son's ashes and show him the world. To show him a beautiful place he never made it to and to scatter his ashes at that location. 
All I ask is that you promise to think of my amazing son even if you didn't know him. That you think about all the lives he saved through organ donation. That you tell him that his mom will always love him. And that's she sorry. YOU MUST AGREE TO SAY THAT. Because I am and I need him to hear it as the last thing he hears before he takes off.
Are there people out there that are willing to help this heartbroken mom give her beloved son one last adventure?
I can't let the beast win. 
I MUST find a way for my son to soar across the universe".

The page has been liked by more than 21,000 people since. 

The (very long) list of the places where CJ was scattered at can be found here (Tamar, I would love for you to please get in touch). Pictures can be found here and videos here, as well as on Youtube and Vimeo

In April 2015 I was able to supply CJ with another resting place, as I scattered him in Yerevan, Armenia. I was nervous the envelope won't get to me in time, and then I was nervous someone at the airport might question what I carry in my bag, and then I was nervous someone might say I can't scatter him, so I didn't tell anyone what I was going to do until the deed was done. 

Turns out the only thing I didn't worry about and should have, was the weather: I couldn't postpone it any longer, which is why I scattered CJ on a cloudy day when the beautiful mount Ararat behind me was completely concealed. 

This is what the mountain looked like that day - or to be more precise, didn't look like: 

This is what it looked like from that exact same spot on another day (later, after I left Armenia back to Israel): 

Extremely frustrating. Sorry about that Hallie. 

The album from my scattering in can be found here and the video can be found here

I was supposed to be one of the last people to get ashes as this part of project was supposed to come to an end around his 5th memorial day, but she decided to keep on sending ashes for a bit longer. Hallie will then proceed to write a book about all the beautiful places her beloved son got to visit posthumously, and about all the places where complete strangers told him his parents and brother love him, and his mother is sorry. More information can be found here

Social media has definitely worked its magic with Hallie's request - but this was a mutual, reciprocal process, as Hallie doesn't sugar-coat her grief, pain and guilt over her son's suicide, and in so doing, has touched a lot of hearts. Here are a few examples: 

Social media can be a source for feeling alone and lonely - and it can also bring people closer and make them feel connected. Scattering CJ is definitely of the later group. 

May you find peace, CJ - after death, and Hallie (and John & Connor too of course) in life.