Are We Ready to Deal With Death on Social Media?

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Bereavement hasn’t meshed particularly well into social media. Should the status about a death be ‘liked’ as a show of support? Do you need to post to a deceased friend’s wall to make a lasting memoriam, or do you just never de-friend?

The problem with tackling loss on social media is that the entire infrastructure is set up to be happy and congratulatory. “Like” on Facebook, “favourite’” on Twitter, “pin” on Pinterest. Sounds rather morbid when you think of ‘”liking” an obituary, or “pinning” a death notice.

Facebook has been kicking around the idea of a “sympathize” button for quite some time to deal with this shortcoming. As a lot of social sites have found out, new features that seem like a good idea can easily be abused, as with Twitter’s ‘report abuse’ button being used by organized trolls to shut down accounts. I foresee a lot of sarcastic clicks of the ‘sympathize’ button.

“But to encourage a billion people to share their lives online, and then pretend that their entire emotional spectrum ranges from happy to stoked, is only further stunting out interactions,” wrote Vice contributor Derek Mead. It’s difficult to balance the life-casting reality aspect of social networks with the shiny-happy-people, self-actualized image so many people aspire to.

With increasing “real life” integration, maybe the digital self isn’t allowed to be separate anymore. Google+ needs your real name, especially to comment on YouTube. Facebook needs your phone number for two-step authentication. And with LinkedIn, it wouldn’t even make sense to use an alias for your digital resume.

As social media deepens its intrusion into our lives, we’re going to have to figure out how to deal with death, perhaps much more publicly than before. Maybe we’ll be scheduling our final status updates from our deathbeds. Or having an executor change our cover photo to a somber ‘In memoriam’ image.

Image credit:  B. W. Townsend

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