Tag Archives: social media

Death on Social Media: A Virtual Living-Dead

When the creators of Facebook first produced a social networking website designed to connect people to people, they simultaneously produced an opportunity to connect people to the deceased. While death on Facebook is only one medium in which recent technological advancement is problematic, its impact is felt in a variety of forms.

Facebook has altered the ways in which death is processed, communicated, and shared. It is a virtual reality that resembles a sort of living reality in problematic ways. Individuals navigate informing groups of people on the death of a loved one through status updates, sharing pictures, and writing on the deceased profile wall. It often elicits an immediate response from individuals whose lives were touched by the deceased in one way or another. It provides a medium for individuals who know the deceased to express their condolences apart from the mortuary ritual, and gives those who do not attend it a place to grieve within a virtual community. Another layer of complexity is added when people interpret others’ Facebook posts or comments on the deceased without knowledge of their relationship to the deceased. While posting something for one person may be cathartic, another may view it as disrespectful. This is one area where individual worldviews can be disputed.

In my experience, posting comments about the cause of death is extremely controversial especially in cases of unexpected deaths. This leads to a number of questions on what is considered respectful to the deceased in virtual forums. Facebook has a peculiar paradoxical quality of seeming both private and public. If we take this problem further we encounter how the mere existence of the deceased profile affects the living.

Facebook acknowledges these kinds of issues by providing information in its Help Center.

Societies develop rituals to deal with the process of death. Is Facebook beneficial or detrimental in allowing unlimited access to grief and mourning?

The effect of social media on death

At the recent seminar, one of the concepts that I found interesting was about the effect of social media on death. As technology advances, social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter improve the means for people to contact and reach out to each other. The effect of media can be both positive and negative. One effect that we can see clearly is the returning definition of death as a social event. In history, death was a more public social event. However, after we were able to learn more about death and even interfere with it, death became the symbol of defeat, grief, and a horrible destiny that many people wish to avoid. The following article “How social media is changing the way we approach death” (by Paul Bisceglio), using Scott Simon case as example, talks about the positive effect of social media by making death a public event. According to this article, near death people who suffered from terminal illness and their relatives can find comfort and happiness from their “followers”. When you are lying alone in the hospital bed, unable to sleep, how nice would it be to receive support from hundreds of people from all over the world? Bisceglio also points out that this publicity on death would give other people the real information about near death experiences so they can be more prepared for their future. As you comment on Facebook of someone who has passed away, you will be able to share the sympathy and feeling about the person who is dead and think about your own future. The “followers” might feel that they also hope to receive the same support and comfort when their time comes.

The interesting question to me is that how people have suddenly changed from the perception of death as an unfortunate, private matter to an encouraging and public event. Maybe it is again, the cultural changes that influence death. When we weren’t able to do anything about death in the past, we were able to accept and prepare for death. Now, when we encountered terminal diseases for a long time and have not figured out a way to “conquer” them, people start to accept the unavoidable death again. This kind of acceptance spreads even more rapidly thanks to the network of social media.

Social media doesn’t affect death only in a good way. Although, we are returning to the ancient concept of death as a public event, now the scale is much larger. A town public event is nowhere similar to a global public event. And the media network has the power to give death its global appearance. One of the new problems that social media brought to us is the new concept of “haters”. Especially in celebrity’s cases, in their death and near death experiences, there can be many hurtful comments and opinions that deepen the pain in that person as well as in their families. I have seen cases where people create fake Facebook pages to take advantages of the dead by pretending to raise fund for the family of the dead person. This lead to the question of how much death can be a public event? At what point should we share our death experiences with others?

Link: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/08/how-social-media-is-changing-the-way-we-approach-death/278836/