Like many of you, I am someone who has loved and lost. Someone who understands that twisting feeling you get in your chest after hearing someone you know has passed away. Someone who understands that innate desire we have to do something — anything really — to try to bring light to the situation. Someone who understands that mourning is inevitable in these difficult situations. What I don’t understand, however, is why this mourning is being done on social media.
Social media powerhouses such as Facebook and Twitter have transformed so much over the past few years that they have become an outlet for essentially every range of emotion. My newsfeed hosts hundreds of funny YouTube videos, selfies, political debates, and cat photos every day. While I have accepted the fact that this type of content will continue dominating my feed, I have not accepted my feed as a suitable medium for expressing grief over a matter as personal as death.
Let me start by saying that there are exceptions. By now, everyone has heard of the recent death of beloved actor, Robin Williams. Williams was an international film icon and the news of his death spread like wildfire on all forms of social media. Another is Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager who was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. What exactly is it that makes these deaths “exceptions” for public mourning on social media? The intent behind their mourning goes beyond just the present death at hand; it carries force for social impact in the future.
Similar to the victims of school shootings, drunk driving, or drug overdoses, there is a deeper, more strategic reason behind mourning publicly, which is to raise awareness of something beyond just that person’s death. Williams’ death raised concerns for treating depression. Brown’s death prompted discussion regarding discrimination and police brutality. Other recent deaths have raised concern regarding issues such as gun control, bullying, and drugs. I “like” these posts on Facebook because more “likes” means more awareness, and more awareness helps prevent these situations from happening again.
That last sentence could be an argument in itself for another column, but for now I simply just want to ask the question: What exactly does it mean when we “like” a Facebook friend’s grieving post? In many cases, we do not know their deceased loved one, and in some cases we barely know the person who is posting. Still, many of us “like” it anyways. It’s like if you were walking down the street and you saw someone crying along the side of the road. Any decent human being would stop and try to comfort them, which is why we tend to do the same even in the virtual world. Only now it’s easier because at the click of a button you feel like you have done your job. In many cases, that is probably the last time you will acknowledge that person’s loss. By mourning on social media, you are giving your friends a “get out of jail free” card for difficult conversations. Nobody enjoys seeing friends go through tough times, but in the end those difficult conversations you have are necessary because they strengthen relationships and make us better people.
I do not mean any disrespect to those who choose to mourn publicly on social media, but I simply ask that you consider what your purpose for doing so is. Talk to family, talk to friends, write in a journal, or any other sort of outlet you want to use. Just make sure that what you do, you are doing for you and your own self-reflection. While “likes” might give you the temporary feeling of comfort and sympathy from those around you, I can promise you that there are more fulfilling means for coping with a loss. My own rule of thumb is that anything you wouldn’t announce aloud in a social setting shouldn’t be announced on Facebook either. Despite the wide array of tools social media equips us with to communicate with friends and family on such a large scale, death will always be a personal matter and should be communicated as such.
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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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