Reactions to death and dying are spreading like wildfire on social networking sites. From live tweeting of Michael Jackson’s funeral on television to the overwhelming, emotional, and political responses to the death of Osama bin Laden, people are turning to social media to mourn the loss of loved ones, leaders, and opponents.
I first started studying what I call the “Social Media Obituary” when I started writing my second book, The Rules of Netiquette: How to Mind Your Manners on the Web. I had observed how friends of mine were reaching out to express their sadness when friends and family members were ill and passed away. I noticed how people connected on Facebook to advise friends of funeral arrangements. At first, I was uncomfortable with the “Social Media Obituary,” but have now that when handled in good taste, which is very individual, there is a place for a web page, site, updates, and a way to remember your loved ones.
In my article on the Huffington Post entitled, “The Social Media Obituary,” I went into great lengths to discuss not just it’s position as a place to hang your social media hat while mourning, but the responsibilities of friends on social networks when someone is crying out for help. The comments on my Facebook page were thought-provoking. They ranged from, “We must look out for each other,” to someone who wished a school friend a Happy Birthday on Facebook, only to find out that the friend had passed away.
In the most recent case, Emily Longley, a single woman, was found dead in her home in the U.K. after posting a Facebook update saying she had a stalker and was scared. A memorial page was created in her honor on Facebook, which now has almost 16,000 comments from mourners and strangers. In other cases, teens and students who were cyberbullied took their lives. These tragedies might have been prevented if we took time to look at their Facebook updates and jumped in to help.
The primary focus of The Social Media Obituary are on tribute pages being created on Facebook. It’s become both a home for us to share our joys and successes, while dealing with real-life issues such as sickness and death. While our relationship status updates include, “Single” to “In a Relationship” to “It’s Complicated” to “Married” and “Divorced,” we don’t have a category to say, “Deceased.” Some profiles stay active on Facebook as a memoriam. Others remain due to lack of digital housekeeping. Tribute sites have been filled with inappropriate comments and have been pulled down. One thing that is known for sure, we now mourn and grieve with the help of our social media friends.
The full article can be found here on Huffington Post. I look forward to reading your comments on the issue. If you get a moment, do like us on Facebook.com/RulesofNetiquette where you can add your comments and thoughts.
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Just got home from the Women's National Book Association Convention...Julie, your speech was sensational! You gave us all so much valuable information about the world of social networking that the audience couldn't write fast enough...me included! You are a great speaker that provided so much "hands-on" information that you left us all wanting more. I'm excited to learn that you are now offering social networking bootcamps. I will be taking the 3 hour course in just a few weeks. Thanks so much for helping all of us navigate our way through the new world of social networking BRAVO!