Before social networking sites, people usually learned about the death of a loved one by phone call, newspaper obituaries, or radio announcements. Today, Facebook not only instantaneous informs us about the event, but also provides a platform for loved ones to “continue an online relationship with the deceased for personal and collective expression” according to. a study led by U of T’s Faculty of Information (iSchool) librarian Kathleen Scheaffer and UTM professor Rhonda McEwen.
By analyzing Facebook’s features, such as memorial pages and profiles, and conducting surveys and interviews, the researchers found that the ability to publish comments, wall posts, and photos immediately following a death provides Facebook mourners with “a quick outlet for their emotions and a means of timely group support.”
However, users can also unintentionally affect the online persona of the deceased, so that it may instead reflect how his or her Facebook friends remember them. Moreover, posting on the profile of the dead can sometimes create a competitive environment among mourners, raising unsettling questions such as, “who loved her the most?”
To avoid the negative impact of turning the deceased individual’s memory archive into a social one, the authors outline three recommendations: Facebook should offer flexible “digital estate options” for everyone, freeze the profiles and accounts of the deceased, and disable direct messaging and online searches for these individuals.