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07/12/2014

Real People, Real Stories

The best way to clarify and emphasize how much digital death is relevant to all of us is by sharing real stories of real people, which is what I'll be doing here. I'll keep updating this post, if you came across a story, please send it to me: death.in.digital.era@gmail.com or through the Facebook page
As the origin of some of these stories in Israeli, the sources are in Hebrew. Sorry for the inconvenience this may cause in your reading experience. 


2015

  • July: I got a whatsapp message about a person recovering from a difficult surgery and can't remember his own passwords. If there was a higher awareness to these things, before going into surgery we would make sure that in case of an emergency, someone would be able to access our online accounts. And sometimes that someone would be us, ourselves. 

  • June: Idan Shacham posted a request on Facebook, asking to help locate a stolen smartphone. The phone belonged to a good friend of Bar Shavit who was killed on March 2nd 2015. On it were "Pictures, conversations, memories, recordings... the memories can't be recreated...".
    This is a case of theft, but the feelings of the people who loved the deceased and cherished the lost memories are the same. 

2014

  • SeptemberThe parents of 19 years old Jake Anderson, who froze to death on a river bank under circumstances which remain uncertain, started collecting signatures in a petition calling the state of Minnesota (where they live) for a change of its legislation. After Jake passed away, they were unable to login or get access to their son’s digital legacy, which they hoped would shed light on the circumstances of his death. An example to the pain and difficulty parents encounter when dealing with the digital aspects of death: “Nobody should have to face the roadblocks that we've had in just trying to see this stuffsaid his mother, Kristi Anderson.
  • AugustMyriam Safari’s mobile phone was stolen. It contained pictures and videos of her son Mooli, who passed away 3 weeks earlier, at the age of 5, and as she said: “Had memories that have no substitute”. An example to the great importance devices and their digital content have, following the death of a loved person, especially when not backed up.
Facebook screenshot
  • AugustLooking for a way to unlock a mobile phone of a soldier that was skilled in battle, without damaging its content. An example of the great significance digital devices have and their content for the people who love us.
Facebook screenshot
  • AugustSean Mondstein was killed in “Tzuk Eitan”, leaving behind personal notes in his mobile phone. An example of the enormous value of the digital content people leave behind
Newspaper article 
  • JulyLilah, sister of the soldier Liad Lavi who was killed in “Tzuk Eitan”, shares a video that the family members found after his death. An example of the great significance digital devices that we leave behind have and their content for the people who love us: she uses the word “Treasure”, when referring to the data the family got out of his portable hard drive.
Facebook screenshot
  • MarchApple refuses to grant Josh and Patrick, sons of Anthea Grant, who died of cancer, access to the ipad of their deceased mother. An example of the gap between what grieving people expect and the actual posthumous policies.
  • FebruaryJohn Berlin approaches Facebook in a moving video that turns viral, asking to see his deceased son, Jesse', "Look Back" video. Facebook responds to the request and later change their Look Back videos policy regarding deceased users. An example of how much what we leave behind is meaningful to our loved ones.

Please note: if you contact Facebook with a request regarding a 'Look Back' video of a loved one who passed away, as far as Facebook are concerned, this equals a request to memoralize the account even if it isn't what you had in mind. My colleague Damien Mc'Calig refers to it as a "trap" set by Facebook. I highly recommend you fully grasp the outcome of memoralizing an account before you take this step. 
  • January: In Israel, Ilana, a bereaved mother updates that she has managed to log in into her deceased daughter's Facebook account, Noy, and how much joy this brings her.
    An example of how dear our online legacy is to the people who love us. She chose the words “happiness” and “joy” to describe her feelings in this matter.
Facebook screenshot
  • JanuaryAmanda’s Twitter account, who passed away in April 2013, rose to the public’s awareness thanks to a video clip created of her tweets.
    An example of how significant can the digital footprints we leave behind be, even for strangers.
    September 2014 update: Amanda may not have been real :\.
    Another update: the video is no longer available online. I'm uploading it here from my own archive: 
video


2013

  • December: A social worker sends me an email with a request for help after the Facebook profile of a murdered man has vanished.
    An example for the fact that there is a need for training professionals also in the digital aspects related to a person’s death today, and to increase their awareness of the subject.
Email screenshot
  • November: The brother of an old acquaintance passed away, and he sends me the following private Facebook message.
    An example of the difficulties we deal with today, related to death in the digital era, which we did not have to deal with in the past.
Facebook screenshot, personal message
  • SeptemberRoni Lahav published on Facebook a request for help locating the iPad that was stolen from her house, which contained videos of her deceased husband with their child.
    An example for the importance of the digital assets we leave behind to the people who love us.
Facebook screenshot
  • AugustOmri Weil published on Facebook a screenshot of a Facebook profile, where the mother and sisters of Sagit Avital, who passed away, were asking her Facebook friends to stop congratulating her for her Birthday after her death, since it only adds to their pain. Sagit’s profile has been closed since. An example of the difficulties family members and friends experience after their loved one passes away, due to her/his presence, which still exists, online.
Facebook screenshot
  • JulyTzach Cohen, brother of Noy, who suddenly passed away, published in Facebook a request to help locating his sister’s mobile phone, which disappeared during the mourning days. Later on it was found that the phone was stolen and its entire content has been deleted.
    An example of the pain a family experience when they have no access to their loved one’s last photos: He uses the phrase “hold what is left from her”.
Facebook screenshot
  • FebruaryMatthew Beland passed away in the hospital, surrounded by his loving family. They knew he was dying and took care of everything, except for his digital legacy, simply because they did not think about it. His wife, Ashley, interviewed for a TV report in the US. An example of the gap between the family’s expectations and the actual policies of the internet providing companies, and an example of the importance of the digital legacy of the deceased person for her/his loved ones.
video

  • FebruaryRicky and Dian, parents of 15 years old Eric Rash who committed suicide and left no letter behind, approach Facebook and Google with request for access to his accounts and get refused, although Eric was a minor. The parents launch a process that brings to change of legislation in the state of Virginia with regards to access to the digital legacy of a minor.


2012


  • JuneHelen and Jay, parents of 21 years old Benjamin (Ben) Stassen who committed suicide and left no letter behind, approach Facebook and Google with a request to access his accounts and get refused.
    An example of the difficulties that arise and for the complexity of the subject: 
    The parents’ request for access for what their son left behind is understood, and so is the online websites and platforms who think it is their task to take care of their client’s privacy, in his life as well as after he passed away. As far as the parents are concerned, if he would leave a diary in his drawer, they would not need permission from any outer factor in order to open it.
  • April: Louise Palmer, a grieving mother expresses the pain Facebook inflicted on her when it memorialized her late daughter's account - against the explicit wishes of the daughter, 19 years old Becky, who died of a brain tumor. Mail online article, BBC video article

  • MarchReadwrite published an article about the story of communities’ manager at www.tribe.net, who received contradictory requests from the sister and daughter of a deceased community member, regarding his account. An example of the difficulties and dilemmas that arise when the deceased person did not leave directions regarding their digital estate/digital content/ digital legacy.
  • FebruaryMagen Born receives a text message and finds out that her husband Joshua Born, a soldier in the US army was killed in Afghanistan. An example of how quickly information is distributed in the digital era, of the responsibility each one must have regarding publications after death and of the need for awareness and ethics. For additional reading:
  • A professional restoration lab succeeds in restoring some of the pictures that were stored in the mobile phone of Ayala Ifrah, who perished in the Carmel disasterReceiving the pictures was very emotional for her mother. An example of the enormous importance that digitally saved memories has – especially when being the last to stay after a loved person passed away.
Newspaper article

2011


  • OctoberDJ Danny Bar dies on the stand during work. Until today (2014), the LinkedIn suggests him as a potential connection to the professional musicians’ network. An example of dealing with online life after death.
  • AprilMy brother, Tal Shavit, was killed by car hit in March. In April, his Yahoo email account was hacked and used to distribute spam. This is how my journey to the worlds of digital death begun. An example of the difficulties death in the modern era brings – confrontations that the relatives of deceased persons did not have to deal with.
Print Screen of the inbox of a good friend of Tal's

2010



2005


  • JanuaryThe personal computer of Haim Avraham gets stolen, with irreplaceable memories and photos of his deceased son, the soldier Benny AvrahamAn example of the enormous pain that may be caused for the loved ones, when not having the digital legacy of the deceased.
Website article, print screen

  • After the death of 22 years old Loren Williams, his parents, Karen and David filed a lawsuit against Facebook, in order to gain access to his account. To the best of my knowledge, it is the first kind of a lawsuit against Facebook.His mother takes actions until this day so that other family members of deceased people will not lose pictures of their loved ones, as happened to her – Facebook removed her son’s account along with all the pictures in it, that were lost for his family. Meanwhile, the attempt for change of legislation she initiated in the state of Oregon, was unsuccessfulAn example of the gap between the will of the family and the policies of the service providers, and an example of the importance of the digital legacy of a deceased person for her/his loved ones.

2004


  • DecemberAfter the death of soldier Justin Ellsworth in Iraq, his family turns to Yahoo asking for access to his account, and get refused. This was the first case of dealing with digital death that got to the media, and caused a media and public uproarAn example of the gap between the family’s will and the policies of the service providers , and an example of the importance of the digital legacy of the deceased for her/his loved ones.


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My heartfelt thanks to Amir Shemesh, who volunteered to translate this post. It went online in the Hebrew version of the blog in May 2014 and I've been updating it there since. 

4 comments:

  1. Amazing compilation of stories!!

    Thanks for sharing this. I have shared it on our Facebook page at - https://www.facebook.com/PlannedDeparture - Hope that's okay!!

    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you.
      Of course, please feel free to share it with as many people as possible. I hope it will help people see the bigger picture and relate to this issue more.

      Delete
  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Really moving article. I had no idea that parents would be denied access to the digital legacy of a minor. Never would want to have to go through that if I was in their place...

    ReplyDelete