So many blogs, books and marketing strategies have been written in the past decade about the weight that social media holds in our lives. As a young adult, I’ve grown up with social media for the last ten years. I remember the excitement of getting a MySpace and the sophistication that came along the decision to get a Facebook. I’ve had Facebook for eight years and a Twitter for four. One phenomenon I’ve observed over the last few years is the role that social media plays in death. It’s been more prevalent lately—or maybe I’m just noticing it more. Either way, social media presents us with a new way of mourning.
Just the other morning I logged onto Facebook and noticed that a friend ‘liked’ a page in memory of a little boy from a small town near my home town. Of course, curious as I am, I clicked on the link to see what this memorial was all about. Sadly, the little three year-old boy represented died in a car accident the previous day. His small community and people from all over the state of Kansas mourned for him via media. I remember my first experience with death and social media, too. My sophomore year of college a student from my high school passed away suddenly. I come from a very small town so I knew him well. He was a friend and a cousin to my best friend. Not thinking, I tried calling my best friend to ask her what happened. As soon as the phone started ringing, I hung up prematurely. Did she even know about his death yet? I certainly didn’t want her to find out from my questioning about a memorial on Facebook. Thankfully, she found out later from her family.
According to James Burchill, founder and CEO of Business and Fusion Marketing, Facebook currently has approximately 845 million active monthly users. However, according to Craig Blaha, a social media researcher, over 30 million Facebook accounts belong to dead people. What do we do with this? I’ve been evaluating the reactions that people have on social media when loved ones die for awhile now. How strange it is to pull up Facebook and find a friend still well preserved online. Facebook tells you to “message him or her” or “wish him or her a happy birthday.” What a strange dichotomy. People are coping in a different way. Memorial groups are created on Facebook and #hashtags on Twitter. Loved one’s walls are covered in truly heart-felt and deep messages. Supportive comments are given and prayers are lifted up. And somehow, we don’t forget. A visit to a Facebook wall or a hashtag is only a click away, providing an unspoken relief to those affected by the grief, even months down the road.
Again, a strange dichotomy. They are dead, but in some way they are alive. They are preserved. What I’m gathering is that this type of coping is a new and natural part of our society, especially in my generation and the generations below mine. I would go as far to say coping via social media can be healthy. It’s like modified journaling—somehow social medic connects us, in more than one way, back to a person and that’s OK.
At the same time, social media rules still apply. We can only mourn this way in moderation. We can’t forget the importance of stepping out into a community and being healthy that way. We can’t forget what it means for us, psychologically, to talk real words with people in the flesh. We must remember sitting around and sharing memories is just as important as sharing them on social media, even more so, in my opinion.
In my mind, there are two things to glean from this:
1. Social media opens up a new way to cope and we have to identify that it exists. It’s something to be mindful of in our day and age.
2. Psychologically, we must help prepare one another to deal with mourning in an even greater way. Part of that includes committing to the ministry and practice of presence in our own communities.
What are some of the curious ways in which you see social media transforming our mourning experiences?
What do you see as the unique challenges and opportunities presenting themselves here?