Journalism students - death in the Facebook age

Emma Crees is a writer and blogger who spends entirely too much time online and comes  from Didcot, Oxfordshire.  On her blog, A Writer In A Wheelchair , she writes about anything that comes to mind including books, sailing, writing and crafts.  Emma volunteers for her local Citizens’ Advice and as a lifelong disabled person is passionate about disability rights.  [caption id="attachment_723" align="aligncenter" width="478"] (image: JJAdibrata)[/caption] Death in the Facebook age One evening a few months ago I got home wanting nothing more than an early night.  But first I had to send an email. And as I was online I checked Facebook too.  I saw message after message saying “rest in peace” and expressing horror and shock. No longer sleepy but shaky and swearing I realised that one of my old friends had died. The internet, and Facebook in particular, have changed the way death is announced and the way we grieve.  With my friend her family didn’t have to announce her unexpected death – within hours people knew from the posts of others.  The grief of friends was played out in public in the form of messages and photos and memories. The Internet and social media are great at connecting people.  I doubt if I’d have found out about her death in the days before Facebook. But it also means that we don’t always have control over what and when information about ourselves is shared both good and bad – I know several people who have had news of births shared by overexcited people before they got the chance themselves. Does an immediate wildfire of announcements, check in’s at the funerals and even pictures on blogs of coffins help or does it hinder at a time like this? Does it support and reduce the need to contact people individually and share details or does it force those grieving to deal with others at a time they would rather not? It’s very much something with no right or wrong answer depending a lot on the person who died and also those who are left behind. The other issue that the Internet has brought up when it comes to death is what happens to our online presence when we die.  Most social networks have information available about what to do when a user dies and offer some form of memorial status to their account.  It’s not always easy to find that information and for some people it’s not a step they feel able to take. Still being able to post to the twitter or Facebook of their loved one helps them feel closer. Social media will be our legacy when we die.  My descendants would be able to look at my blog or my tweets and know what I thought about things and a bit about who I was (and probably a few things I’d rather they didn’t!). Personally as someone who has blogged for years and is active on Twitter, Facebook and many other places online in the event of my own death I would want it announced online because there are many people I only know in those spaces and the Internet is an important part of my life.  But my family are more private than I am and I think would need some time before they could handle an outpouring of online grief.  I’m also not sure I’d want any detail about it shared as I think that may make it harder for family. Whatever your thoughts about the Internet and social media it’s clear that it’s here to stay and has the potential to be both very useful and very harmful at difficult times such as when someone dies.