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Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 237–248 | Cite as

Deletion as second death: the moral status of digital remains

  • Patrick Stokes
Original Paper

Abstract

There has been increasing attention in sociology and internet studies to the topic of ‘digital remains’: the artefacts users of social network services (SNS) and other online services leave behind when they die. But these artefacts also pose philosophical questions regarding what impact, if any, these artefacts have on the ontological and ethical status of the dead. One increasingly pertinent question concerns whether these artefacts should be preserved, and whether deletion counts as a harm to the deceased user and therefore provides pro tanto reasons against deletion. In this paper, I build on previous work invoking a distinction between persons and selves to argue that SNS offer a particularly significant material instantiation of persons. The experiential transparency of the SNS medium allows for genuine co-presence of SNS users, and also assists in allowing persons (but not selves) to persist as ethical patients in our lifeworld after biological death. Using Blustein’s “rescue from insignificance” argument for duties of remembrance, I argue that this persistence function supplies a nontrivial (if defeasible) obligation not to delete these artefacts. Drawing on Luciano Floridi’s account of “constitutive” information, I further argue that the “digital remains” metaphor is surprisingly apt: these artefacts in fact enjoy a claim to moral regard akin to that of corpses.

Keywords

Death Social networks Deletion Personal identity 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Deakin UniversityBurwoodAustralia

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