How social media has changed the way we grieve

Grieving for someone’s passing used to be a private affair, but that’s not the case anymore.

When Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew passed away in 2015, the nation turned to various social media platforms to express their collective grief. Some shared videos online to commemorate Lee while others changed their profile photos into the image of a black ribbon framing his profile. Either way, this underlines how social media has changed the way we grieve— grieving, an individualised human experience, is now transformed into a public affair spotlighted online.


Grieving online as a coping mechanism

Currently, social media platforms like Facebook allow friends and family to memorialise the deceased’s social media account and if appointed as the legacy contact, they can continue posting and sharing memories after the person has passed away. Alternatively, individuals can always turn to their own personal accounts to verbalise their mournings. While paying tributes to the deceased, both ways act as a coping mechanism for those left behind, helping them to organise their emotions and process the person’s passing which they may otherwise struggle in real life.

As social media aids in communication that transcends beyond borders and time, grieving online can inform a greater network of people about the person’s passing and on a more practical level, it even facilitates the organisation of funerals for the bereaved family. As social media makes it easier for people to share their condolences, one can hopefully gain comfort from the support shown by these wider social circles.

Beyond one’s existing social network, there are also many online support groups available on various social media platforms. As strangers with similar experiences come together in these online communities, they can lend support for one another and this further reduces the desolate nature of mourning. Some communities have even transfigured their grief into action taken towards solving critical social issues and thus, this highlights the meaningful impacts of grieving online.

Here are some of the local support groups available on social media:


Negative aspects of grieving online 

As with any social media posts, by exposing ourselves online, we are making ourselves vulnerable to hate speech, insensitive trolls or even unhelpful comments. The act of sharing one’s emotions may draw accusations of them wanting self-conceited attention. Conversely, when one does not publicly mourn, others may accuse them of being indifferent towards the person’s passing. For the friends and family of the deceased, they may even feel indignant and angered when people act closer to the deceased than they originally were. Instead of consoling them, such insensitivity can potentially aggravate the grieving process of those left behind.

While the memorialisation of social media accounts is meant for honouring those who passed on, there are concerns that prolonged grieving prevents the bereaved friends and family from moving on with their lives. For some of followers of these accounts, the constant reminders of the person’s passing may even be unsettling and uncomfortable after a period of time.


How should we grieve online

Ultimately, grieving is an individualised human experience that differs from one person to another and it is important for us to respect that everyone mourns in different ways. Whether we choose to grieve privately or publicly online, we should always have a support system around us to tide us through these hard times and it is always recommended that individuals rely on other avenues for support beyond just social media.

When posting on social media about the deceased, it is important that we show compassion and consideration, especially towards the bereaved family and friends. Instead of giving your advice or judgement to the bereaved, try offering your presence and listening ear as that may be what they need most during these hard times. Beyond just displaying our support online, it is always recommended for us to follow up with a personal text and call to show our sincerity towards the bereaved.

Refer to Timeliss’ article on How to handle social media accounts when someone dies

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