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The digital afterlife: what happens in social media when we die? Part III

The last podcast of my travelogue explores how social media influence the mourning process. Two psychologists, Jennifer Boni and Arturo Peon, give insights into the experience of grief.  Is it better to maintain the profile of a deceased person, or should it be taken down? How does technology affect the construction of  personal and collective memory?

Although Facebook’s memorial profiles  can facilitate the mourning process, they can also be the source of profound dismay. Security loop holes make the system vulnerable to hoaxes, and add to the grief of the people left behind.

Grafiti-memorial in Montevideo, Uruguay (photo taken by Arturo Peon Barriga). "Sergio Silveira used to fish and teach here. Today he is no more. If you wish to use this place, do it in dignity. Daddy forever."


Further resources:

More on grief cycle and mourning stages.

Facebook blog: Memories of Friends Departed Endure on Facebook

Jose van Dijk, Mediated Memories in the Digital Age

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  1. Alexandra 11:34, Apr 13th, 10

    Great job. I really liked that you included interviews with psychologists to give your story more depth. Your comment about immortality reminded me of our readings from this week. Of course, I think that if it were me, I would prefer to follow the psychologist’s advice – leave the profile up for awhile, and then take it down. Dwelling for too long doesn’ t seem healthy.

  2. HoniehLayla 11:46, Apr 13th, 10


    I believe Social Media does make it difficult to let go. It prolongs the mourning process which is unhealthy and unnatural in my perspective. I like the example use of when new photos are tagged of users who have passed. Someone of was close to that individual would relive the shock of their death – why? – because they didn’t choose to see that activity – it makes the individual feels as though the deceased user may be living.

    Also, I liked that you used the 2 psychologists to back your theory.

    Social Media will only pro long the process instead of the typical 6mths-1 year process as mentioned.

    I wonder what type of features Facebook/Twitter and other SNSes have implemented for those users who have passed. Do they plan to do anything more?

  3. Leslie 12:34, Apr 13th, 10

    I really liked your inclusion of psychologists in your talk- good idea! Like Alex, now after reading the articles for this week, your travelogue really reminds me of Kurzweil’s search to live forever as information. Like one of the psychologists mentioned at the end, though, I feel like this is just an illusion. This is not living, and not necessarily how I want people to remember me when I do pass on. I’d hope that the living would think about the deceased on their own and would want to go visit their grave to feel connected, rather than just visiting a Facebook page.

  4. Ryan 15:31, Apr 13th, 10

    Why do we necessarily need to “let go” with regards to the mourning process? I think we just need to come to a closure and accept what has happened, as the first psychologist said. I thought the psychologists that you interviewed were a great addition to the depth of the topic. I think you do a great job with the audio editing and how you engage the interview responses. I thought the psychologist that said that we need to let things out and talk about our feelings and thoughts helps us in the mourning process. I think it is essential to be open and transparent with our feelings because holding things in is not good.

    I think that the biggest problem is the photos that are on facebook. Is that the way we want to remember that person like Leslie said. This is a great point. “How” do we want to be remembered. The illusory feeling about the account was a profound point because how do we connect with the dead or as you keep mentioning “letting go” or disconnecting with the dead. Where’s the balance??? Or should there even be a balance?

  5. Jimena 16:22, Apr 17th, 10

    Great work! I enjoyed your travelogue from the beginning. I think that you did a great job addressing all of the angles in this complicated issue by bringing in specialized speakers.

    I think it’s super interesting how our online presence gives us a “feeling” of control, and thus makes us think we can still have a say of our online image even after we’re dead. Let me try to explain…. if we take social media and online presence out of the picture for a sec– what can we do to be remembered in a nice way after death? It depends of the way we spend our life, the relationships that we forge, and the quality of our actions while we’re alive. Likewise, our social impact on others depends on our real, live interaction with them.

    With social media, on the other hand, we have a sensation of “controlling” the impression we make on people by “managing” what we say, do, or how we look, in our online footprint. We only include what we like, our “nicest” side. That illusion of control seems to go further into how we want to be remembered after passing away– and we worry that only what we want remains on our profile, only the nice pics can be seen, and none of our “private” stuff opens up, such as emails, etc.

    I guess we find our own digital after-life so important because our online social presence has become essential to us. In the end, don’t you think we’ll be remembered by the real impression we made on people, not as our profile dictates?

  6. mushon 21:56, Apr 17th, 10

    I feel like we change after we die. I won’t like my profile to become a grave or an obituary or anything like that. I feel like my abscence in social media might even become amplified by social media. All these messages on my silent wall with no response. This is not how I would act. This is not how I would like to be remembered I would never want these almost narcisistic performances of memory and longing to take over who I used to be. I guess I have no choice though and neither would either of us. Or… maybe we should start a group on FB: “When I die I would like to be remembered as more than a facebook profile. Please delete me.”

    (In the future watch out for mono/stereo issues in Audacity) loved this travelogue, thanks!

  7. Leslie 17:26, Apr 21st, 10

    Hey Nadine! I started filling in the blanks in the Wikipedia article that Ryan started about “Social Media & Death.” I started writing about Twitter & Facebook: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:RyanTDMC/Social_media_and_death

  8. Juliette 13:58, Apr 24th, 10

    Hey Nadine, Here is an artcile that I found today and that definitely shows that you have dive into an ongoing question…