Facebook is where young people socialize. It’s how they express themselves. And, increasingly, it’s a tool they use to grieve the death of their peers. The new option to “memorialize” a Facebook page after someone dies restricts profile and search privacy to friends only, and students can continue to use the person’s wall as a place for catharsis — like an extended funeral to which no prior generation has had access. An app has even been created by the Israeli company Wilook that enables users to craft posts and videos to be published posthumously.
Penn State senior Juliana Viau experienced this Facebook grieving firsthand when an old high school friend died of brain cancer.
“His Facebook became a place for people to post things they were thinking about his death,” Viau said. “Pretty much the whole school started posting comments.”
University of Richmond junior Elizabeth Dorton had a similar experience when one high school friend was killed in a car accident and another while studying abroad. She said that, almost immediately, people started posting everything from obituaries to old poems on the students’ walls.
“It’s weird, because for me it’d be more comforting to be able to go on the person’s wall and see the last things they posted,” Dorton said.
Dorton said she remembers that when the closer of the two friends died, the last thing on her wall was an Instagram picture of her with her friends at the beach. That picture only survived for a moment before it was buried under thousands of posts, links and tags from friends and family. Dorton herself made a status for each of the friends, but she said posting on their walls felt sad and uncomfortable.
“Sometimes it seemed like people were only writing things to write them,” Viau said. “It was like if they posted something that was beautifully written, people would read it and know they were part of it all, even if that person hadn’t known him at all. When someone dies at such a young age it affects everyone. It’s such a shock that people want to reach out and make sure others are feeling the same way, and Facebook gives them an outlet to do that.”
University of Richmond senior Meg Schroeder also had a friend who died after high school, and she said she immediately took solace in the girl’s Facebook page. When the girl’s mother contacted Facebook to deactivate the page a few days later, Schroeder was shocked.
“I thought it was unfair to her friends,” Schroeder said. “It felt like she was being erased from our lives completely — all we had were memories of her, and nowhere to share them.”
Facebook has already become an integral part of life, to the point where most can’t seem to live without it. But should it pervade into death as well?
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