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Death, Identity, and the Social Network

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What happens to our accounts, data, and digital identities after we die? Over two million US social media users will die this year, but their deaths do not necessarily result in the elimination of their accounts or places inside networks of “friends.” This leaves friends and families with both the opportunity and challenge of incorporating digital identities into their practices of grief and mourning. Meanwhile, post-mortem digital identities require designers and administrators to address the ongoing use and maintenance of post-mortem data. In this talk, I share findings from mixed-methods research on digital afterlives. I identify how people interact with profiles the account holder’s death, describe “post-mortem social networking” practices, articulate the multiple and conflicting needs of survivors, and present design research addressing the management of post-mortem digital identities. Finally, I discuss what death tells us about the technological design of identity, how identity infrastructure operationalizes the user, and the importance of future research that accounts for the infrastructure that undergirds user-centered research and practice within HCI .

This talk is part of the Microsoft Research Cambridge, public talks series.

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