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Yesterday Roger Ebert’s Twitter account posted something for the first time in two years.

Surprising not because Roger Ebert was perhaps the most famous film critic in the world, and should be able to afford his own unlimited data plan. But because Roger Ebert died two years earlier.

Who Was Roger Ebert?

From 1967 to his death in 2013, Roger Ebert was the in-house film critic for the Chicago Sun Times. But his fame wasn’t just confined to the state of Illinois. During his long career, he had built a reputation for being, perhaps, one of the most astute and witty film writers of his era (if not all time).

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Ebert was a champion of cinema.

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He appreciated big blockbuster films just as much as he appreciated low-budget indie flicks. But simultaneously, there was a lack of pretentiousness in his writing. He could appreciate films that, although weren’t the most cerebral or artistic, were enjoyable films.

He could appreciate films like Adam Sandler’s Grown Ups, which despite being slated by the majority of ivory-tower film critics , was lauded by Ebert for being “pleasant, genial, good-hearted”. Similarly, he described Captain America: The First Avenger as a “real movie, not a noisy assembly of incomprehensible special effects”.

But at the same time, Ebert had a sharp tongue. His loquacious, acerbic wit eviscerated many a crap movie. Of Little Indian, Big City he said:

“Little Indian, Big City is one of the worst movies ever made. I detested every moronic minute of it… if you, under any circumstances, see Little Indian, Big City, I will never let you read one of my reviews again.”

On the tedious, schlocky Tom Green “comedy” Freddy Got Fingered:

“This movie doesn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.”

But my all-time favorite Ebertism was in his review of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo – arguably the worst movie of all time:

“Deuce Bigalow is aggressively bad, as if it wants to cause suffering to the audience. The best thing about it is that it runs for only 75 minutes. … Does this sound like a movie you want to see? It sounds to me like a movie that Columbia Pictures and the film’s producers … should be discussing in long, sad conversations with their inner child.”

Ouch. Ebert’s sharp tongue became so notorious, a publisher eventually released an anthology of his negative reviews, called “Your Movie Sucks”. It’s an excellent read, and at $14.99 on Amazon, is highly recommended, especially if you’re looking to get your start in film criticism.

Unfortunately, Roger Ebert suffered from some serious health problems. Between 2002 and 2013, he suffered from cancer of the thyroid and of the salivary glands. It was a condition that would cost him his jaw, stripping him of his ability to speak and eat. Ultimately, it cost him his life.

Ebert was a prolific user of Twitter. He used it to trade barbs with professional idiots Sarah Palin, Andrew Breitbart, and most famously, Bam Magera. It was as much a part of Ebert’s writing as his Chicago Sun Times columns were.

When he died, his account was passed down to his wife, Chaz, who used it to retweet content from his personal site and from her personal account. She took great care to never tweet directly from Roger’s account, only retweet. And that was the case, until now.

Not Long After

People were, without saying, shocked that Roger Ebert’s account had returned from the grave.

Some took the time to say which other celebrities’ accounts they wished would spring back to life.

Others simply expressed a wish that Ebert was coming back to take a pop at the latest cinematic turd-du-jour, Fantastic Four.

And some talked about golf.

What Really Happened?

It’s not entirely clear. According to online TV blog Zap2It and the New York Observer, some unlucky person has ended up with Roger Ebert’s old phone number.

Phone companies regularly recycle old, unused numbers. According to the Wall Street Journal, almost 37 million phone numbers are recycled each year.

rogerebert-simcards

If Roger Ebert’s account was linked to a phone number, it’s entirely possible that it could have been recycled, and found its way to the person who sent the tweet. That person could then have been deluged under a swamp of Twitter SMS alerts.

They almost certainly did not log into his actual Twitter account, since they almost certainly did not have Ebert’s password.

How Did Roger’s Wife React?

As previously mentioned, Roger’s wife is in charge of his account.

I can’t imagine what it must be like for your dead husband’s Twitter account to start ghost-tweeting. Roger had died only two years beforehand. I imagine the wounds for Chaz are still incredibly real, and incredibly sore. But Chaz responded with good-natured humor and mirth, and responded to almost everyone who’d tweeted Roger from his account.

What Does This Teach Us?

In the past, we’ve talked a lot about what happens to our technological worlds when we die. I’ve talked about how to allow a third-party to set your Facebook into memorial mode Facebook Now Lets You Give Someone Your Account When You Die Facebook Now Lets You Give Someone Your Account When You Die What happens to your Facebook profile when you die? Read More . We’ve written about how to gain control of the email and social networking accounts How To Access A Deceased Relative's Digital Accounts How To Access A Deceased Relative's Digital Accounts While the Internet has already provided for ways to remove your deceased loved one's digital accounts , there is occasionally the need to access them. Sometimes it's for will information - other times it has... Read More of deceased relative. We’ve even talked about how to ensure loved ones can access your data How To Ensure Your Loved Ones Can Access Your Data Once You're Gone How To Ensure Your Loved Ones Can Access Your Data Once You're Gone We've written a bit about how loved ones can access your accounts and how to prepare for your death in this digitally-influenced world. However, since we are talking about rather important data, it might be... Read More after you’ve died.

The focus of these articles has been on how to gain access to accounts, and how to preserve them. But we’ve never thought about how to ensure they’re not improperly accessed, as Roger’s apparently was.

Moreover, this episode suggests that social networking sites that allow access through mobile numbers and SMS messaging (like Twitter and Facebook do) should consider how they handle recycled numbers. Perhaps it would make sense for them to annually verify the numbers attached to accounts are still active.

Remembering Roger

This episode, as strange as it is, shows that Roger Ebert’s legacy lives on. The original tweet was retweeted almost 500 times, and attracted hundreds of responses. Most, I’d wager, were sad it wasn’t from the man itself.

Any fond memories of Roger Ebert? Did you tweet him back? I want to hear about it. Leave me a comment below, and we’ll chat.

Photo Credits: Roger Ebert (Sound Opinions), Sim-Mer Down Now (Frankie Leon)

  1. fcd76218
    August 12, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    "Perhaps it would make sense for them to annually verify the numbers attached to accounts are still active."
    Perhaps it would make sense for them not to allow access through mobile numbers and SMS messaging.

    • Matthew Hughes
      August 17, 2015 at 8:13 pm

      Fair point.

  2. Read and Share
    August 11, 2015 at 6:55 pm

    Stuff like this is easier for me (I think) -- being single with no dependents.

    I share my passwords with no one. I just figure all my accounts will "freeze" upon my death -- until they are wiped off whichever servers they reside with the passage of time.

    I do have a Will and a hardcopy list of my assets and liabilities -- which my siblings can access upon my demise.

    • Matthew Hughes
      August 17, 2015 at 8:13 pm

      I don't know man. I think what we do online is part of our legacy. It's a shame to let that die with us.

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