A little article about digital death I wrote for The Conversation

Facebook’s accidental ‘death’ of users reminds us to plan for digital death

Tama Leaver, Curtin University

ZuckThe accidental “death” of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and millions of other Facebook users is a timely reminder of what happens to our online content once we do pass away.

Earlier this month, Zuckerberg’s Facebook profile displayed a banner which read: “We hope the people who love Mark will find comfort in the things others share to remember and celebrate his life.” Similar banners populated profiles across the social network.

After a few hours of users finding family members, friends and themselves(!) unexpectedly declared dead, Facebook realised its widespread error. It resurrected those effected, and shelved the offending posthumous pronouncements.

For many of the 1.8-billion users of the popular social media platform, it was a powerful reminder that Facebook is an increasingly vast digital graveyard.

It’s also a reminder for all social media users to consider how they want their profiles, presences and photos managed after they pass away.

The legal uncertainty of digital assets

Your material goods are usually dealt with by an executor after you pass away.

But what about your digital assets – media profiles, photos, videos, messages and other media? Most national laws do not specifically address digital material.

As most social networks and online platforms are headquartered in the US, they tend to have “terms of use” which fiercely protect the rights of individual users, even after they have died.

Requests to access the accounts of deceased loved ones, even by their executors, are routinely denied on privacy grounds.

While most social networks, including Facebook, explicitly state you cannot let another person know or log in with your password, for a time leaving a list of your passwords for your executor seemed the only easy way to allow someone to clean up and curate your digital presence after death.

Five years ago, as the question of death on social media started to gain interest, this legal uncertainty led to an explosion of startups and services that offered solutions from storing passwords for loved ones, to leaving messages and material to be sent posthumously.

But as with so many startups, many of these services have stagnated or disappeared altogether.

Dealing with death


Drowning in social media. mkhmarketing/Flickr

Public tussles with grieving parents and loved ones over access to deceased accounts have led most big social media platforms to develop their own processes for dealing with digital death.

Facebook now allows users to designate a “legacy contact” who, after your death, can change certain elements of a memorialised account. This includes managing new friend requests, changing profile pictures and pinning a notification post about your death.

But neither a legacy contact, nor anyone else, can delete older material from your profile. That remains visible forever to whoever could see it before you die.

The only other option is to leave specific instructions for your legacy contact to delete your profile in its entirety.

Instagram, owned by Facebook, allows family members to request deletion or (by default) locks the account into a memorialised state. This respects existing privacy settings and prevents anyone logging into that account or changing it in the future.

Twitter will allow verified family members to request the deletion of a deceased person’s account. It will never allow anyone to access it posthumously.

LinkedIn is very similar to Twitter and also allows family members to request the deletion of an account.

Google’s approach to death is decidedly more complicated, with most posthumous options being managed by the not very well known Google Inactive Account Manager.

This tool allows a Google user assign the data from specific Google tools (such as Gmail, YouTube and Google Photos) to either be deleted or sent to a specific contact person after a specified period of “inactivity”.

The minimum period of inactivity that a user can assign is three months, with a warning one month before the specified actions take place.

But as anyone who has ever managed an estate would know, three months is an absurdly long time to wait to access important information, including essential documents that might be stored in Gmail or Google Drive.

If, like most people, the user did not have the Inactive Account Manager turned on, Google requires a court order issued in the United States before it will consider any other requests for data or deletion of a deceased person’s account.

Planning for your digital death

The advice (above) is for just a few of the more popular social media platforms. There are many more online places where people will have accounts and profiles that may also need to be dealt with after a person’s death.

Currently, the laws in Australia and globally have not kept pace with the rapid digitisation of assets, media and identities.

Just as it’s very difficult to legally pass on a Kindle library or iTunes music collection, the question of what happens to digital assets on social media is unclear to most people.

As platforms make tools available, it is important to take note and activate these where they meet (even partially) user needs.

Equally, wills and estates should have specific instructions about how digital material – photos, videos, messages, posts and memories – should ideally be managed.

With any luck the law will catch up by the time these wills get read.

The Conversation

Tama Leaver, Associate Professor in Internet Studies, Curtin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Call For Papers:

Gaming Disability: Disability perspectives on contemporary video games

Edited by Dr Katie Ellis, Dr Mike Kent & Dr Tama Leaver
Internet Studies, Curtin University

Abstracts Due 15 February 2017

Video games are a significant and still rapidly expanding area of popular culture. Media Access Australia estimated that in 2012 some twenty percent of gamers were people with a disability, yet, the relationship between video gaming, online gaming and disability is an area that until now has been largely under explored. This collection seeks to fill that gap. We are looking for scholars from both disability studies and games studies, along with game developers and innovators and disability activists and other people with interest in this area to contribute to this edited collection.

We aim to highlight the history of people with disabilities participating in video games and explore the contemporary gaming environment as it relates to disability. This exploration takes place in the context of the changing nature of gaming, particularly the shift from what we might consider traditional desktop computer mediation onto mobile devices and augmented reality platforms. The collection will also explore future possibilities and pitfalls for people with disabilities and gaming.

Areas of interest that chapters might address include

  • Disability narratives and representation in gaming
  • Accessibility of gaming for people with disabilities
  • Mods, hacks and alterations to games and devices for and by people with disabilities
  • Augmented reality games and disability
  • Disability gaming histories
  • Mobile gaming platforms and disability
  • Specific design elements (such as sound) in terms of designing accessible games
  • Gaming, television and disability
  • Future directions for disability and gaming

Submission procedure:

Potential authors are invited to submit chapter abstracts of no more than 500 words, including a title, 4 to 6 keywords, and a brief bio, by email to Dr Mike Kent <m.kent@curtin.edu.au> by 15 February 2017. (Please indicate in your proposal if you wish to use any visual material, and how you have or will gain copyright clearance for visual material.) Authors will receive a response by 15 March 2016, with those provisionally accepted due as chapters of approximately 6000 words (including references) by 15 June 2016. If you would like any further information, please contact Mike Kent.

About the editors:

The editors are all from the Department of Internet Studies at Curtin University and have a history of successfully publishing edited collections in the areas of and gaming, disability, and new media.

Dr Katie Ellis is an Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Internet Studies at Curtin University. Her research focuses on disability and the media extending across both representation and active possibilities for social inclusion. Her books include Disability and New Media (2011 with Mike Kent), Disabling Diversity (2008), Disability, Ageing and Obesity: Popular Media Identifications (2014; with Debbie Rodan & Pia Lebeck), Disability and the Media (2015; with Gerard Goggin), Disability and Popular Culture (2015) and her recent edited collection with Mike Kent Disability and Social Media: Global Perspectives (2017).

Dr Mike Kent is a senior lecturer and Head of Department in the Department of Internet Studies at Curtin University. Mike’s research focus is on people with disabilities and their use of, and access to, information communication technology and the Internet. His other area of research interest is in higher education and particularly online education, as well as online social networking platforms. His book, with Katie Ellis, Disability and New Media was published in 2011 and his edited collection, with Tama Leaver, An Education in Facebook? Higher Education and the World’s Largest Social Network, was released in 2014. His latest edited collection, with Katie Ellis, Disability and Social Media: Global Perspectives is available 2017, along with his forthcoming edited collections Massive Open Online Courses and Higher Education: What went right, what went wrong and where to now, with Rebecca Bennett and Chinese Social Media Today: Critical Perspectives with Katie Ellis and Jian Xu.

Dr Tama Leaver is an Associate Professor in the Department of Internet Studies at Curtin University. He researches online identities, digital media distribution and networked learning. He previously spent several years as a lecturer in Higher Education Development, and is currently also a Research Fellow in Curtin’s Centre for Culture and Technology. His book Artificial Culture: Identity, Technology and Bodies was released through Routledge in 2012 and his edited collections An Education in Facebook? Higher Education and the World’s Largest Social Network, with Mike Kent, was released in 2014 through Routledge, and Social, Casual and Mobile Games: The Changing Gaming Landscape, with Michele Wilson, was released through Bloomsbury Academic in 2016.

At yesterday’s outstanding Controlling Data: Somebody Think of the Children symposium I presented the first version of my new paper “Intimate Surveillance: Normalizing Parental Monitoring and Mediation of Infants Online.” Here’s the abstract:

Parents are increasingly sharing information about infants online in various forms and capacities. In order to more meaningfully understand the way parents decide what to share about young people, and the way those decisions are being shaped, this paper focuses on two overlapping areas: parental monitoring of babies and infants through the example of wearable technologies; and parental mediation through the example of the public sharing practices of celebrity and influencer parents. The paper begins by contextualizing these parental practices within the literature on surveillance, with particular attention to online surveillance and the increasing importance of affect. It then gives a brief overview of work on pregnancy mediation, monitoring on social media, and via pregnancy apps, which is the obvious precursor to examining parental sharing and monitoring practices regarding babies and infants. The examples of parental monitoring and parental mediation will then build on the idea of “intimate surveillance” which entails close and seemingly invasive monitoring by parents. Parental monitoring and mediation contribute to the normalization of intimate surveillance to the extent that surveillance is (re)situated as a necessary culture of care. The choice to not survey infants is thus positioned, worryingly, as a failure of parenting.

An mp3 recording of the audio is available, and the slides are below:

The full version of this paper is currently under review, but if you’re interested in reading the draft, just email me.

For Kath: How to replace every mention of “Internet of Things” with “Skynet” and vice versa in your Chrome browser.

  1. In Chrome, install the Word Replacer 2 plugin.
  2. Click the plugin settings, select settings.
  3. Click ‘new’ on the left and enter your item name (I’ve called mine “Internet of Things” in the left box, “Skynet” in the box next to it on the right.)
  4. At the top of the right pane, select ‘Swap’ (or just ‘Simple’ if you just want “internet of things” replaced, but IOT mentions of Skynet turing into Internet of Things).
  5. Type “internet of things => skynet” into the right pane’s text box, and hit return/enter.
  6. Click Export (ensuring the tickbox is still selected on the left next to your new item).
  7. The instruction will be made into code, and shown to you. Something like this …Fullscreen capture 17032016 103325 AM.bmp
  8. Click ‘Apply to selected’ after the code has appeared.
  9. Click the ‘x’ to close the settings window.
  10. Click on the Word Replace II icon and ensure it’s enabled (the term enabled will be green).
  11. Search for “Internet of Things” and see if it works. (If it doesn’t, I’d blame Skynet.) Also, checking the “Internet of Things” Wikipedia page becomes amusing.
  12. PS If it is working, this post clearly won’t make sense anymore! Winking smile

Here’s the Call for Papers (well, call for Abstracts, initially) for a special issue of Social Media + Society I’m editing with Bjorn Nansen:

Dear colleagues,

Special Issue of Social Media + Society
http://www.sagepub.com/journals/Journal202332

Infancy Online

Eds Tama Leaver (Curtin University) and Bjorn Nansen (University of Melbourne)
 
From the sharing of ultrasound photos on social media onward, the capturing and communicating of babies’ lives online is an increasingly ordinary and common part of everyday digitally mediated life. Online affordances can facilitate the instantaneous sharing and joys of a first smile, first steps and first word spoken to globally distributed networks of family, friends and publics. Equally, from pregnancy tracking apps to baby cameras hidden inside cuddly toys, infants are also subject to an unprecedented intensification of surveillance practices. Reflecting both of these contexts, there is a growing set of questions about the presence, participation and politics of infants in online networks. This special issue seeks to explore these questions in terms of the online spaces in which infants are present; the forms of online participation enabled for and curated on behalf of infants, and the range of political implications raised by infants’ digital data and its traces, for both their present and future lives. Ideally papers will focus on the impact of digital technologies and networked culture on pre-birth, birth and the early years of life, along with related changes and challenges to parenthood and similar domains.

Possible areas of focus include, but are by no means limited to:
•    Social media and infant presence and profiles
•    Cultural and national specificities of infant media use and presence
•    Digital media in the everyday lives of young children
•    The app economy, and capture of infant attention
•    “Mommy blogs,” and online curation
•    Identity and impression management
•    Ethics, persistence and the right to be forgotten
•    Geographies of infant media use
•    Infant interfaces and hardware
•    Cultural responses to parenting, “oversharing”, privacy and surveillance
•    Erasure of maternal bodies in digitising infancy
•    Apps and services targeting infants as a consumer market

Abstracts of 300 words should be submitted to both Tama Leaver t.leaver@curtin.edu.au  and Bjorn Nansen nansenb@unimelb.edu.au  by Friday, 1 April. Where appropriate, please nominate an author for correspondence.

On the basis of these short abstracts, invitations to submit full papers (of no more than 8000 words) will then be sent out by 15 April 2016. Full papers will be due by 1 July 2016, and will undergo the usual Social Media + Society review procedure. Please note that an invitation to submit a full paper for review does not guarantee paper acceptance.

SCMG_ReleaseMichele Willson and I are delighted to announce that our collection Social, Casual and Mobile Games: The Changing Gaming Landscape has been released by Bloomsbury Academic.

Here’s a quick blurb and the contents and contributors:

Social, casual and mobile games, played on devices such as smartphones, tablets, or PCs and accessed through online social networks, have become extremely popular, and are changing the ways in which games are designed, understood, and played. These games have sparked a revolution as more people from a broader demographic than ever play games, shifting the stereotype of gaming away from that of hardcore, dedicated play to that of activities that fit into everyday life.

Social, Casual and Mobile Games explores the rapidly changing gaming landscape and discusses the ludic, methodological, theoretical, economic, social and cultural challenges that these changes invoke. With chapters discussing locative games, the new freemium economic model, and gamer demographics, as well as close studies of specific games (including Candy Crush Saga, Angry Birds, and Ingress), this collection offers an insight into the changing nature of games and the impact that mobile media is having upon individuals and societies around the world.

Contents

1. Social networks, casual games and mobile devices: the shifting contexts of gamers and gaming / Tama Leaver and Michele Willson
Part I: The (New?) Gaming Landscape
2. Who are the casual gamers? Gender tropes and tokenism in game culture / Lina Eklund
3. Between aliens, hackers and birds: non-casual mobile games and casual game design / Brendan Keogh
4. Casual gaming: the changing role of the designer / Laureline Chiapello
5. Discussions with developers: F2Play and the changing landscape of games business development / Tom Phillips
Part II: Reasons to Play
6. The sociality of asynchronous gameplay: social network games, dead-time and family bonding / Kelly Boudreau and Mia Consalvo
7. Digital affection games: cultural lens and critical reflection / Lindsay Grace
8. Mobile games and ambient play / Larissa Hjorth and Ingrid Richardson
9. Affect and social value in freemium games / Fanny Ramirez
Part III: Locative Play
10. Riding in cars with strangers: a cross-cultural comparison of privacy and safety in Ingress / Stacy Blasiola, Miao Feng and Adrienne Massanari
11. Playful places: uncovering hidden heritage with Ingress / Erin Stark
12. Rewriting neighbourhoods: Zombies, Run! and the runner as rhetor / Jamie Henthorn
13. The de-gamification of Foursquare? / Rowan Wilken
Part IV: New Markets
14. Social games and game-based revenue models / Mark Balnaves and Gary Madden
15. Angry Birds as a social network market / Tama Leaver
16. From premium to freemium: the political economy of the app / David Nieborg
Part V. Cheating, Gambling and Addiction
17. Social casino apps and digital media practices: New paradigms of consumption / Cesar Albarran-Torres
18. Cheating in Candy Crush Saga / Marcus Carter and Staffan Bjork
Afterword
19. Reflections on the casual games market in a post-Gamergate world / Adrienne Shaw and Shira Chess

Michele and I would like to publicly thank all of our wonderful contributors, the folks at Bloomsbury, and Troy Innocent for the rather nifty cover image. For the book’s launch Bloomsbury are offering 40% off the normal price, which makes the eBook version actually affordable for humans, not just libraries! Details here: http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/social-casual-and-mobile-games-9781501310584/

The front material and first chapter can be read online here (PDF).

Finally, here are the very generous cover jacket reviews:

“This book is an exciting rogue’s gallery of authors, games and topics at the forefront of modern gaming. The inclusion of issues discussing not only recent developments in design, playfulness and the definition of who plays games, but also attending to the darker aspects of contemporary gaming cultures such as the transition to Freemiun, cheating and GamerGate is an important step in examining new pathways into games and gaming culture. Social, Casual and Mobile Games: The Changing Gaming Landscapedemonstrates through an impressive series of chapters how this genre of games needs to be taken seriously as a cultural marker of today’s players and the games they engage with.”
–  Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Research Fellow, Digital Cultures Research Centre, University of the West of England, UK

Social, Casual and Mobile Games captures a wide array of scholarship from all corners of Game Studies. The authors explore, from a variety of empirical and theoretical perspectives, a rich tableau of games and players that often disappear from dominant narratives about what makes a game or a game player.”
–  Casey O’Donnell, Associate Professor of Media and Information, Michigan State University, USA, and author of Developer’s Dilemma

“This terrific and timely book is an invaluable guide to the profound ways in which gaming – in all its casual, mobile, and social glory – will never be the same again. Critical research for the rest of the (gaming) world has finally arrived.”
–  Gerard Goggin, Professor of Media and Communications, The University of Sydney, Australia

So 2016 seems to be all about the workshops and Summer School so far!

Just finished:

  • On 1 February, my first day back from leave, I presented “Developing a Scholarly Web Presence and Using Social Media for Research Networking”  at the Perth Research Bazaar (ResBaz) held at Murdoch University (slides available here). The talk was vey well received, with some great questions. Also, kudos to the organizers for the ease of parking!
  • Last week I had the great pleasure in facilitating several workshops with my collaborator Tim Highfield, updating our “Instagrammatics: Analysing Visual Social Media Workshop” (slides here) for the 2016 CCI Summer School on Digital Methods hosted by the fabulous folks at the QUT Digital Media Research Centre. This was a fabulous event, with participants from across the world, all exploring the nuances of Digital Media methods and research. Tim and I learnt just as much from our participants as we brought to the table, which makes events like this so very rewarding. And there may have been one or two moments of levity, too! Winking smile

Coming Up:

  1. On March 8th I’ll be giving a talk Introducing TrISMA – Tracking Infrastructure for Social Media Analytics with Alkim Ozaygen. This will be held in the new  Internet of Everything Innovation Centre at Curtin and is hosted by the Curtin Institute for Computation (CIC).
  2. On March 30th, I’ll be facilitating a workshop at ECU Mouth Lawley (and livestreamed elsewhere, I believe) on “Promoting Your Research Online and Social Media Awareness”. This is tailored for ECU’s postgradaute students, but is open for anyone else to attend.
  3. Finally, for now, on May 2 I’ll be the first presenter at the Socialising Your Research – Postgrad and ECR Workshop @ UWA (flyer below). This event is open at anyone interested in WA, but RSVPs are needed (see the flyer for details).

Socialising Your Research – Postgrad and ECR Workshop @ UWA

Re-OrientationI’m pleased to note that my chapter ‘Born Digital? Presence, Privacy, and Intimate Surveillance’ is out now in the Re-Orientation: Trans-lingual, Trans-cultural, Trans-media. Studies in narrative, language, identity, and knowledge collection edited by John Hartley and Weiguo Qu for Fudan University Press. The collection is the outcome of the fantastic  Culture+8: New Times, New Zones symposium in 2014 which explored cultural synergies between different countries and locations in the +8 timezone which include Perth where we hosted the event, and, of course, China.

My chapter is a key part of my Ends of Identity project; here I start to think about ‘intimate surveillance’ which is where parents and loved ones digitally document and survey their offspring, from sharing ultrasound photos to tracking newborn feeding and eating patterns. Intimate surveillance is a deliberately contradictory term: something done with the best of intentions but with possibly quite problematic outcomes.  Here’s the full abstract:

The moment of birth was once the instant where parents and others first saw their child in the world, but with the advent of various imaging technologies, most notably the ultrasound, the first photos often precede birth (Lupton, 2013). In the past several decades, the question is no longer just when the first images are produced, but who should see them, via which, if any, communication platforms? Should sonograms (the ultrasound photos) be used to announce the impending arrival of a new person in the world? Moreover, while that question is ostensibly quite benign, it does usher in an era where parents and loved ones are, for the first years of life, the ones deciding what, if any, social media presence young people have before they’re in a position to start contributing to those decisions.

This chapter addresses this comparatively new online terrain, postulating the provocative term intimate surveillance, which deliberately turns surveillance on its head, begging the question whether sharing affectionately, and with the best of intentions, can or should be understood as a form of surveillance. Firstly, this chapter will examine the idea of co-creating online identities, touching on some of the standard ways of thinking about identity online, and then starting to look at how these approaches do and do not explicitly address the creation of identity for others, especially parents creating online identities for their kids. I will then review some ideas about surveillance and counter-surveillance with a view to situating these creative parental acts in terms of the kids and others being created. Finally, this chapter will explore several examples of parental monitoring, capturing and sharing of data and media about their children, using various mobile apps, contextualising these activities not with a moral finger-waving, but by surfacing specific questions and literacies which parents may need to develop in order to use these tools mindfully, and ensure decisions made about their children’s’ online presences are purposeful decisions.

The chapter can be read here.