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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Online platforms built for the living increasingly have to confront what to do when one of their users dies, leaving an account behind.

Details: Each major platform is different, but all have procedures in place should a user die.

  • Facebook will “memorialize” a deceased user’s account — turning it essentially into a remembrance page — at the request of family members or friends. (Family members can also request to delete the account entirely.)
  • Instagram, which Facebook owns, will also lock in the contents of someone’s account when they die.
  • Twitter will deactivate a deceased user’s account in collaboration with a “person authorized to act on behalf of the estate, or with a verified immediate family member.”
  • Google will work to secure a user’s account after they die. “We can work with immediate family members and representatives to close the account of a deceased person where appropriate,” the company says. “In certain circumstances we may provide content from a deceased user's account.”

Several platforms encourage users to plan ahead for their own death, often by designating an individual to handle their account. Facebook users can also tell the service to delete their account when they die.

The big picture: Social networks have repeatedly grappled with how to handle this question, developing their policies over the years — and facing criticism along the way.

  • Last year, a writer for Mashable noted that effectively anyone could memorialize a Facebook account, based on the way the system worked at the time.

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg announced earlier this year that the site was now “only allowing friends and family members to request to have an account memorialized.”

  • She also said the company uses artificial intelligence to keep content from non-memorialized accounts belonging to deceased users out of other users' feeds.
  • A Facebook spokesperson wouldn't specify how the platform identifies whether someone has died, but said that there "are any number of signals we look for to indicate a person may be deceased."

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Biden says he'll make Supreme Court pick by end of February

President Biden speaks on the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden on Thursday said he will announce the nominee for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer's replacement by the end of February.

Driving the news: Biden also affirmed that he will nominate a Black woman to replace Breyer, saying "it's long overdue."

Stephen Breyer formally announces retirement from Supreme Court

Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

Justice Stephen Breyer on Thursday sent a letter to President Biden formally announcing his retirement from the Supreme Court.

State of play: Breyer said his retirement will take effect when the court "rises for the summer recess (typically late June or early July) assuming that by then my successor has been nominated and confirmed."

COVID created an epic U.S. trade gap

Chart: Axios Visuals. Data: Census Bureau/Bureau of Economic Analysis

The details of the blockbuster fourth quarter GDP report released Thursday morning tell a vivid story of how the underpinnings of the world economy have been reshaped by the pandemic.

One example: In the arithmetic around U.S. economic output, trade acted as a more severe drag last year than it has in a generation.