In this increasingly technological age, grief and the grieving process can adopt many forms. This individual experience can be further complicated by the deceased’s online presence on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, which can live on in perpetuity after their death.
Grieving online may be a new occurrence, but culturally speaking, after-death rituals are nothing new. While some may find modern coping methods in poor taste or even unsettling, they often share much in common with historical expressions of grief. For example, so-called ‘funeral selfies’ are one recent trend that many find distasteful, yet there is actually a rich history of post-mortem photography, either for remembrance’s sake or out of necessity.
When it comes to the official policies on social media sites like Facebook, memorial statuses are the preferred method of online grieving. These statuses offer a respectful reminder of the deceased, while also letting new visitors know that the person is longer living. Though this can be helpful for some users, there are a few changes that take place once a memorial page is established.
First, the family must initiate the process of memorializing or preserving the page. If the family does not have access to the deceased person’s account, this can require submitting proof to the website to establish control of the user page. Once the website agrees to memorialize the page, the profile will lose a number of capabilities. Profiles will no longer be visible in public searches, and friends will be unable to ‘tag’ the deceased with fond memories for their families to enjoy. It may also be impossible to add new friends to the page after it changes. In some instances, Facebook may delete memorial pages if they are found to be inappropriate.
Original Profile…or No Profile
Because of these restrictions, some choose to let their loved one’s original profile remain unaltered after death. Many see it as a reminder of those who’ve passed in their lives, while also establishing a place to share memories with others close to the deceased. This can be incredibly cathartic for anyone still grieving, as it affords an outlet for emotions, especially during difficult times such as the holidays. Users who prefer this method sometimes say that it feels as if the person is still in some ways an active part of their life.
In the end, handling the online presence of a deceased loved one is ultimately up to the family and those closest to the person, though in some cases the deceased may still have some say. As people become increasingly savvy with social media, more and more people are including how to handle this situation as part of their will. For those who are looking to plan ahead, the Digital Death Guide can take some of the mystery out of creating and managing a digital legacy.
In the end, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer to digital immortality, as the grieving experience differs greatly from person to person. However, one thing remains certain: technology will continue to make an impact on collective humanity, in life and in death.