As much as I love how social media is an open platform for people to voice their opinions, there was one thing I always felt uncomfortable about on social media: mourning for the loss of a loved one. Yes, death is a natural part of the human existence, but I think its presence on social media takes away from the sensitivity and sacredness that is attached to it. In my opinion, it feels rather inorganic. Something about the idea of mourning for a loved one in the realm of instant likes and short comments does not feel right to me. I came across this article by Jacob Brogan called Sharing is Important: How Facebook is changing the ways we feel, that may have opened my eyes to see how Facebook can be used as a coping mechanism. However, Brogan also argues the dangers of relying on Facebook to mourn someone’s death. Diving into his own personal experience, Brogan says “Facebook had changed the way I sought the attention of my loved ones, crowding out my negative thoughts in favor of cheerier ones.” It’s the fear of being judged or the fear that others may not agree with your idea that makes people reconsider how much they should reveal on social media. Brogan says instead of properly addressing sorrow, the behavior is to censor raw emotion and sorrow and to make things more cut-clean and optimistic. The self imposed censorship on Facebook does not allow people to properly express their feelings and receive the support they need.
image courtesy of Flickr user Ehsan Khakbaz H.
Another factor that I believe contributes to people’s changing behavior is the structure of social media like Facebook and Twitter. For example, on Twitter, people are expected to deliver a message within 140 characters. On Facebook, sympathy and support are delivered in the form of “likes.” My feelings are such tools are efficient in spreading news, but the sacredness behind the idea of death becomes unappreciated and undervalued in the context and structure of social media. On the other hand, I read a really insightful article called My Own Life by Oliver Sacks, a neurologist, writer, and professor who teaches at NYU, a few weeks ago (before stumbling upon Brogan’s article that also addresses Sack’s essay). After finding out that he only has a short amount of time to live, Sacks was able to use online media to talk about his impending death. He is able to shed wisdom to an audience on the perspective and psychology of someone who is approaching death with the foresight of his end. I guess what is important is how one approaches the topic and how they use the online world to cope with the idea of death. In Sacks case, his thoughts on his own death, although public, becomes a source of intellectual and artistic discussion. It is a way for others to learn and create conversation, which is very valuable. I’m still not sure about how I feel about people using Twitter and Facebook to mourn their loss. It’s not the intention I’m uncomfortable with — Sharing is natural and mourning is necessary but it’s the accessibility and simplicity of Facebook that doesn’t match up with something as complicated as a human’s death. What is your position on posting sensitive topics on Facebook? Do you think Facebook is an enabler for forced positivity? Feature Image courtesy of Flickr user Charis Tsevis