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Social Media's Bizarre Relationship with Death and Memories

During the early days of this year, we were all subjected to mass heartache as multiple iconic figures passed away, including the likes of Lemmy, David Bowie, Alan Rickman and more recently, Dave Mirra. In each of these cases, news, condolences and tributes spread like wildfire across social networks, allowing people to both remember the impact of, and grieve for, the deceased individual. This doesn't just happen with celebrity deaths anymore either, with more and more people turning to Facebook and Twitter as part of their healing process.

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There are many contributing factors as to why social media has developed this strange relationship with death. Chief among these, in my opinion, is the simple fact that the younger generation of millennials are so accustomed to sharing every event, be it major or minor, with the world via social media. The death of a beloved family member always hits hard, in some way defining that period of their own life as they attempt to come to terms with their loss, so to omit such an event from their timeline just doesn't cross their mind. It is, as self-centered as it may sound, now part of who they are, part of their story, and the draw of social media itself is the ability to share our stories with the world.

A tribute to David Bowie created after his passing - LatinTimes
These social media posts can also serve a purpose as part of the grieving process. Putting it online makes it real. You can't, at that point, convince yourself otherwise, forcing you to seek closure. Also the likes, comments and shares the post receives are often viewed by the grieving party as evidence of the impact the deceased had, how many lives they touched and how all those people, much like themselves, are now in mourning.

Beyond that, the waters can get a little murky. We've reported before on Facebook's memorialised accounts, services that will keep your social profiles active after death and even coffins featuring smart screens and Facebook integration, which range from slightly weird to downright morbid, but taking the prize for the creepiest online behaviour is the 'art', for lack of a better word, of taking selfies with the dead.

Udhai Ri's selfie with his deceased Uncle (pixelated) - TheMirror
This trend has developed fairly recently, sparking heated debate in the process over whether the practice should be considered acceptable. I stand by my earlier points about how sharing these events can sometimes being genuinely helpful to the grieving process, but I struggle to find a way to support this more extreme form. You have to consider the fact, when sharing these distinctly more blunt posts, that you are not the only one grieving for that person. Other friends and family members, far from enjoying your post, may find photos of the body deeply disturbing and detrimental to their own grieving process. These are not the images we want in mind when we think back on our loved ones now departed. We want to remember them as they were in life, with a broad smile on their face and joy in their hearts. These images run counter to that aim.

For those who are not as closely linked to the tragic event, images of the deceased appearing in their news feed can still have a significant effect. Images of death have long been avoided by the mass populace, and for good reason. Our brains are supposed to find these images and thoughts disturbing. Death is supposed to be scary. This is our brain's way of forcing us to remove ourselves from such scenarios and seek safety. You must consider the impact on other members of your online community before you present them with potentially troubling sentiments and imagery.

You can see more evidence of the odd partnership between social media and death popping up all the time, with Facebook's memorialised accounts being the most widely-publicised instance of a social network trying to promote a healthy outlook on death. Some, it seems, don't think these systems go far enough however, leading to the creation of a new social network who's entire user base is already deceased.

TheLocal / Memories
Called 'Memories', this puzzling concept for a social network has been created by Raffaele Sollecito, who recently spent 4 years in prison before being absolved of Meredith Kercher's murder. Sollecito actually came up with the idea way back in 2005, long before the accusations arose, following the death of his mother. Seeking a way to "remember her easier", Sollecito was unfortunately forced to apply the brakes to his plans as he became the focus of  a highly public murder investigation.

Now, name cleared, walking free and holding a Degree in Computer science which he earned while in prison, Sollecito is making a big push to realise his ambitions, aiming to have the service go live in the Spring of 2016.

According to Sollecito. 'Memories' will go far beyond being a simple memorial and tribute platform. The network also plans to offer a variety of graveside services, including but not limited to; replenishing flowers, placing candles or wreaths, tombstone cleaning and personalised urns. Upon completion of the task, a high-resolution photograph is uploaded to the deceased individual's page.

I must admit, I was highly sceptical when I first heard about Memories. It seemed, before my initial research, to be a simple copy of Facebook's memorialised accounts just given their own domain. While it does serve that purpose as well, the services available through the network could actually prove genuinely useful to those who have a desire to maintain a loved one's grave site, but either lack the time to do so themselves or have to travel long distances to visit.

The network will launch first in Italy, but Sollecito has plans to make it available in other countries as soon as possible.



Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. Currently working as Editor of Social Songbird, he hopes to one day drop that 'aspiring' prefix. Follow him @SamAtSMF

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Social Media's Bizarre Relationship with Death and Memories Reviewed by Sam Bonson on Friday, February 12, 2016 Rating: 5

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