Presenter Information

Jessica Lingel, Rutgers University

Start Date

20-5-2011

Description

With an increasing number of social activities taking place online, an emotionally fraught and culturally complex question has surfaced regarding what happens to someone’s online content and identity after death. Social media sites are increasingly sophisticated in the development of tools and applications available for users to interact with each other online, but when it comes to virtual versions of bereavement, both the technical and cultural protocols for processing grief are still very much in the process of developing. This paper examines Facebook’s policy on the pages of site members who have died as a means of addressing online grief as a social phenomenon, as well as a point of access to tensions surrounding questions of online identity and computer-mediated communication. The background for this analysis is established with a brief discussion of traditional funerary practices in the United States1, before moving to a review of scholarship that addresses grief, and online grief specifically. Methodology for analysis of online discussions of Facebook’s policy is outlined, taking into account issues of how online identities are theorized and why blogs are specifically appropriate as a source of interpretation for examining online grief. Themes from these online discussions are identified in order to analyze how social media users understand practices of virtual bereavement, and more generally conceive of constructing online identities, relationships and communities. Analysis of online grief creates a space for understanding a social phenomenon as it is being formed, but also for consideration of what it means to construct, maintain and lose relationships and identities that are formed online.

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May 20th, 12:00 AM

The Digital Remains: Social Media and Practices of Online Grief

With an increasing number of social activities taking place online, an emotionally fraught and culturally complex question has surfaced regarding what happens to someone’s online content and identity after death. Social media sites are increasingly sophisticated in the development of tools and applications available for users to interact with each other online, but when it comes to virtual versions of bereavement, both the technical and cultural protocols for processing grief are still very much in the process of developing. This paper examines Facebook’s policy on the pages of site members who have died as a means of addressing online grief as a social phenomenon, as well as a point of access to tensions surrounding questions of online identity and computer-mediated communication. The background for this analysis is established with a brief discussion of traditional funerary practices in the United States1, before moving to a review of scholarship that addresses grief, and online grief specifically. Methodology for analysis of online discussions of Facebook’s policy is outlined, taking into account issues of how online identities are theorized and why blogs are specifically appropriate as a source of interpretation for examining online grief. Themes from these online discussions are identified in order to analyze how social media users understand practices of virtual bereavement, and more generally conceive of constructing online identities, relationships and communities. Analysis of online grief creates a space for understanding a social phenomenon as it is being formed, but also for consideration of what it means to construct, maintain and lose relationships and identities that are formed online.