Stewarding Online Identities for the Deceased

Given the important role that social network sites play in online bereavement practices, we are exploring issues around inheritance and post-mortem data management of Facebook accounts. We are finding that people focus less on ownership of data, and instead on the duties and potential conflicts associated with maintaining accounts post-mortem.

“Stewardship” is an alternative to inheritance when designing for post-mortem data management practices. Our research on post-mortem data management activities highlights how stewards are accountable and responsible to the deceased and various survivors. However, weighing competing responsibilities is complicated by varied relationships with disparate survivors, as well as the inability to consult with the deceased.

Post-mortem solutions need to account for the needs of stewards in addition to those of the deceased and survivors. Stewardship as a model better accounts for the interpersonal responsibilities that accompany online data than inheritance alone.


  1. Legacy Contact: Designing and Implementing Post-mortem Stewardship at Facebook Brubaker, Jed R. and Callison-Burch, Vanessa
    Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - CHI ’16
  2. Stewarding a Legacy: Responsibilities and Relationships in the Management of Post-mortem Data Brubaker, Jed R. and Dombrowski, Lynn S. and Gilbert, Anita M. and Kusumakaulika, Nafiri and Hayes, Gillian R.
    Proceedings of the 32nd annual ACM conference on Human factors in computing systems - CHI ’14
  3. Beyond the Grave: Facebook as a Site for the Expansion of Death and Mourning Brubaker, Jed R. and Hayes, Gillian R. and Dourish, Paul
    The Information Society 29, 3: 152–163