Social media has found its way into every aspect of a person’s life, encompassing everything from birthdays and vacations, to break ups and funerals. With 8 out of every 10 Americans on social media it is difficult to keep matters confined to a close group of individuals. The consequences of sharability in the digital age has been the focus of researchers and psychologist alike.
One thing is for certain, the way we experience death and grieving has certainly changed with the addition of social media. This post will address the positives and negatives of social media through real life stories, and research conducted by professors and psychologist alike.
Positive Aspects of Social Media in the Grieving Process
Finding Out About the Tragedy
How frequently do you find out someone you know has died through a ‘R.I.P.’ post on Facebook. Social media is great at bringing awareness to situations including tragedies. Before social media, it may have taken weeks for the information to find your ears, and by that point, you may have missed the opportunity to attend the funeral or memorial service.
Social media is great at disseminating information quickly and effectively. One status update can alert a whole community of something happening. Up into this point there has never been a tool so effective at communicating to the public, which everybody with an internet connection has access to.
Planning the Funeral
With Facebook around, it becomes very easy to plan a funeral. In the days before social media, you would have to contact every family member and friend, or visit them to tell the bad news. This was just one more thing you would have to worry about back then. Now, once you post the news, it's out, anyone who checks Facebook will find out soon.
Furthermore, letting family and friends know when and where the funeral will take place has never been easier. Coordinating the memorial service involves simply posting the information on Facebook.
You Are Not Grieving Alone
Feeling as though you are not isolated in your pain and grief can be a very comforting feeling. Seeing support pour in from other family and friends who are just as devastated by the death as you are can help alleviate feelings of being alone in your grief. Through facebook, more people are able to get involved in the grieving process without imposing too much on the immediate family.
On a national scale, when the tragic Virginia Tech shootings happened in 2011 that resulted in the deaths of 33 students, the student body banded together in unity both on campus and off. Though the college is very large and many of students may not have personally known someone that was injured or murdered, they all grieved together.
Facebook was a forum for communications about memorial services, events and news surrounding the tragedy. Those seeking support were able to find an online community of people willing to help, from alumni to family and students.
Social media was very beneficial during this particular crisis as well as countless other tragedies, big or small. In any case, research conducted by University of North Florida has proven the benefits of communal grieving. This study is eye opening and provides data driven proof of the benefits of socialization in stressful periods. The study also takes a look at some of the negative attributes brought on by incessant Facebook use.
It Provides a New Avenue to Show Support
Social Media provides a space for those that are not comfortable being vulnerable in front of other people to still offer support. Social media also provides an opportunity for those that are far away to still show support even if they cannot be physically present for the memorial service.
Furthermore, those that are not a part of the immediate family can still feel feel connected to others that know the deceased person, and offer support.
This can be taken even further, when the death of a public figure or celebrity passes away. When Robin Williams died, people from all over the world showed their love and appreciation for Robin. All the commotion online also spurred a great deal of awareness on mental health issues that ultimately lead to Robin’s death.
Negative Impact of Social Media
Attention Seeking Mourning
Mourning online allows you to stake your claim with regards to a tragedy. By posting something about the recently deceased, you can let the world know that you were impacted by the loss. Whether this is true or not is not the point. It’s the one-upmanship that is the real problem. Social media can feed into our desire to be the source of breaking news, and to feel important. In the wake of a tragedy, the last thing the family of the recently deceased want is a competition of who was most devastated by the loss.
Lack of Privacy
When a longtime friends' mother passed away, it left him devastated. He wanted to keep the matter private, only letting family and close friends know. However, once the word got out, it became the center of attention for the whole community. The support was all positive, however, my friend still would have preferred to keep matters more private. At least until the funeral service.
This is the inherent risk you take when you sign up for a public social media account. You need to understand that privacy becomes much harder to guard when a single post on Facebook can reach hundreds, if not thousands of people instantly.
When something tragic happens, and you go to Facebook to get support, what happens when you do not get the kind of response you expect? The normally active Facebook is now silent. Or even worse. You post about the tragedy, and instead of getting a positive reaction you get negative responses in the comments.
I have not personally seen this happen, but it is possible. This is why Facebook and other social media platforms are not always the best place to go for support when grieving. It is impossible to know exactly how people will react to an event.
Social Media Replacing In-Person Grieving
We unfortunately live in a world where social interaction is being replaced by online interaction. Since people have access to communication with their friends through online means, people are sometimes just as content to sit behind a computer instead of seeing someone face to face.
This is especially true during grieving. People might not know how to act around close family and friend who are grief stricken. It is understandable that people do not want to leave their comfort zones, but in a situation where your close friends are in pain, it can be super beneficial to physically be there for them.
It’s not just good for them, it's also good for you you. Research has shown that physical touch is incredible at relieving anxiety and depression.
I can’t imagine anything as bizarre as having someone in the community die and Facebook erupts with support, yet the funeral service is almost empty of people. It just doesn’t seem right.
Social Media & Grieving Are What You Make Of It
In the end, social media hasn’t changed our grieving process as much as it’s given us new channels to express and share our grief. Everyone will approach grief differently. If people find that social media helps them grieve than let it be. If people find solace in grieving privately, than let them grieve in peace. Either way, it is not so important HOW we grieve, as it is how we grow from the situation.
If you are interested in a more in depth look at grief, then check out Coping with Tragedy - You Deserve a Happy Life.