New rules needed for Facebook of the dead


Recently, I was one of the first to arrive on the scene of an tragic incident in which a woman died. Though local, I did not know the woman. However, by 7am the next morning I knew her name and what she looked like because we have mutual friends who shared news of her death on social media.

Opening Facebook on my phone, her image was staring back at me, frozen in time. She was smiling, vivacious, happy. Someone’s friend, co-worker. A mother. The woman’s image suddenly took my breath away. She had children. And it’s possible those children did the same thing I did. Woke up in the morning, automatically checked Facebook and saw a picture of the woman who bore them, raised them, loved them staring back with the letters “RIP” above her image. Perhaps it was a comfort to see her photo shared and shared and shared again. Or maybe this image of their smiling mother only caused them pain.

Repeatedly throughout the day, I watched as photographs and messages flooded Facebook. In many of these posts, they tagged the deceased meaning every post lamenting her death – all the comments and photos, shared memories and emojis – were seen by all her Facebook “friends”.

Yet as the day progressed, gradually my discomfort increased as multiple stories of friendship no longer read like grief or sympathy. Expressions of sympathy seemed to wane as one post became two, became three. As individuals shared another photo, another remembrance, their mourning began to look different. It looked competitive.

Sharing a space with someone

Anecdotes are the currency with which people trade at funerals. Yet, when standing in a room with the family of a lost loved one, we do not repeatedly approach to share our stories of the deceased or the last words they spoke to us. When sharing a space with someone, it is much more likely that we offer simple, respectful condolences.

We do this once. We understand that repeated expressions of sorrow are unhelpful, even uncomfortable. When sharing a space with someone who is grieving, it is easier to gauge how our own feelings regarding the deceased might be construed by others closer to them.



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