Grief & Loss: The Role of Social Media

When a loved one passes away, friends and family often experience an overwhelming sense of grief or loss. Although experiencing grief and loss is common, how individuals and cultures manage or express feelings of grief or loss is quite unique. In fact, one of the major components of a culture is its view and/or management of death or loss. With modern culture relying more and more on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, it is important that we understand the opportunities social media provides for handling grief and loss.
Applying the Family Systems Theory in Social Work

Grief & Loss: A Cultural Perspective

Before examining the role of social media in managing grief and loss, one should first understand the how culture and family tend to shape the grieving experience. While there is no right or wrong way to deal with loss or express grief, our families, culture and society play an important part in developing expressions that we consider comfortable or appropriate. Examples of this may include how people pay respects to those that have passed (behavior at ceremonies), care of the deceased body, whether grief is expressed more in private or public and how long the grieving period is expected to last.

Individual Outlook

Individuals may experience or express grief and loss in a way that is outside of what is accepted as “normal” within their family, culture or society. As long as expressions are not harming themselves or others, individuals should be left to express their grief in whatever feels most comfortable for them.

The Role of Social Media in Managing Grief & Loss

With social media being one of the most-used tools for communication and expression, it comes to no surprise that social media has expanded the way that modern society expresses grief and loss. As a result, more individuals have a direct platform to personally pay their respects to the deceased, as well as inform others of the impact that a loved one had on their life.

Social media also provides individuals with more access to their friends, loved ones and family members. This extended network means that we now have more opportunities to provide comfort to those that are going through grief and loss themselves. Whether it’s a quick tweet, personal message or a phone call after seeing a status update, social media has given us multiple tools to show care to those that need it most.

Social Media & Death

One intriguing aspect of social media and death is what is known as the “Facebook ghost.” This phenomenon occurs when the Facebook account of an individual that just passed remains active and friends and family begin leaving comments, some of which may seem as though the writer is speaking as though the deceased could hear or read their comment. Although speaking or writing to those just passed has been a common practice for some time, social media as a platform as expanded the way that that these expressions can be shared and published.

Even though the deceased won’t see their comment, posting on the Facebook page of a deceased loved one has become a common form of grieving for friends and family. Individuals often have so much emotion bottled up that they don’t feel comfortable or know how to properly express themselves at a funeral or visitation. In fact, posting on the Facebook page of the deceased has become such a common form of expressing grief that Facebook has provided family and friends with the option of turning an account into memorial accounts so comments can continue to be left long after the funereal. Social media also provides the opportunity to conveniently communicate, support and vent with those that are going through the same situation.

Virtual obituaries are another popular way for individuals to pay their respects to the deceased. There are a variety of memorial platforms to choose from, some of the most popular include Forever Missed, iLasting and Legacy. Within these platforms, friends and family can look through photos or video, read biographies and leave comments.

As our use of social media continues to progress, it will be interesting to see how strong an impact the platform will have on the grieving process. Five or ten years from now, will we continue to leave comments on the page of the deceased, or will technology create a new form of sharing our condolences? At this point these questions are merely speculation, but with the influence that social media has had on the grieving process, it is fair to say that this process could look quite different in the future.

Learn More

If you’re looking to improve the community and world around you, as well as experience a challenging and life-changing curriculum, University of New England’s Master of Social Work online program may be the perfect fit. The online program welcomes a wide array of students from diverse cultural and educational backgrounds and seeks to develop social workers who are passionate proponents of ending inequalities, exploitation and violence.

Sources:

http://www.pri.org/stories/2014-12-11/social-media-transforming-way-we-view-death-and-grieving

http://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/managing-emotions/grief-and-loss/understanding-grief-within-cultural-context

https://www.facebook.com/help/103897939701143

http://www.thedigitalbeyond.com/2016/01/972000-u-s-facebook-users-will-die-in-2016/

https://broadly-images.vice.com/images/articles/meta/2016/03/27/death-and-emojis-how-grief-manifests-on-social-media-1459089549.jpg?crop=1xw:1xh;0xw,0xh&resize=2000:*&output-quality=70

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