What happens to celebrity Twitter accounts when they die? The Hugo Chavez case

Yes, I know. I should be focussing on much more challenging questions such as eradicating world hunger or education for all, but heck, it’s 1am, it’s the end of my first day at the über geek Mecca also known as SXSW, and this question has been haunting me since the death of Hugo Chavez 3 days ago. (By the way, if you read to the end of this article, you’ll be in for a surprise – seriously).

Your last tweet before dying: the new hype on Twitter

First, I wanted to check what his last tweet was on the verified handle @ChavezCandanga. It dates back to 18 February and reads “Sigo aferrado a Cristo y confiado en mis médicos y enfermeras. Hasta la victoria siempre!! Viviremos y venceremos!!!”. There’s a thing called Google Translate if you don’t get it.

Well, as you now know, he did not win the battle against cancer, and he knew he was sick, so the tweet doesn’t have any special or eerie flair to it, unlike other tweets from people who had no clue they would die when tweeting their last tweet. For more on that, check this article.

My second thought was “How would his death announcement affect follower figures?” Would they go down, people assuming there would be no more interest in following Hugo Chavez? Would there be a surge in interest, a voyeurist urge compelling tweeps to go and check out dead people on Twitter?

Twitter follower figures actually tend to confirm the second, creepier option: there was definitely a surge in the number of followers in the first 3 days following the announcement of his death, which however promptly stagnated and didn’t manage to reach levels of daily increase from before his death.

Dead celebrity Twitter accounts: a testimony to their lives?

It seems no one at the Venezuelian government had the idea of “unplugging” the former President’s Twitter account. It went silent, which would be the least you would expect from someone who is dead. So his Twitter account will probably remain as is, for generations and generations of tweeps to look at and ponder about the rise and demise of political leaders.

Well actually, what is the legal status of archives of celebrities on Twitter and what happens to your social networks when you die, the latter probably being one of the most haunting questions ever, at least for any true geek. Twitter, just like Facebook, has a policy for that, and you can read more about it here.

In the case of Chavez and other public figures, this however only partly answers the question. Is there a civic duty to maintain a political leader’s presence on Twitter as a testimony to his lifetime achievements? Is there on the side of governments a policy about that? We know that there are strict archiving rules around any of the US President’s social media interventions. But what if he died and technically wouldn’t need archiving anymore? Maybe the D.C. government geeks at SXSW can help me figure out the answer to that question. Since over 75% of the world’s political leaders are on Twitter (says this study) this is not a silly question.

The more we will grow in our use of Twitter, the more such questions will become relevant for government communicators and PR companies running the social media show for celebrities.  How we address them will tell a lot about how we treat the legacy of such celebrities.

Now, for the promised surprise: you all know who the no. 1 most followed world leader on Twitter is. It’s @BarackObama. Well now, according to the study mentioned above, guess who no.2 is… Yep, bingo, it’s Chavez! Or rather, it used to be.

If you are a celebrity and you are reading this (one never knows) you may want to consider this cool service: Lives on, which generates tweets for you after your death based on an analysis of your previous tweets to identify your tastes, your friends, etc. Spooky, ain’t it?

Lives On

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