Facebook: A Millenial’s Memorial

Earlier this week, someone from my high school passed away from a hit-and-run. The boy was in my brother’s class, and had actually been a classmate of my brother’s since preschool. He was the definition of a stand-up guy and although I never had the pleasure of knowing him well, the community’s reaction has said a lot about his character. This tragedy has shaken my suburban hometown and followed me back to Chicago, as it has been a major news story since Sunday because the police still haven’t been able to identify the person who ended his life.

 

The strange thing about social media is how widely useful it can be. You think that all of your accounts are merely a pastime until you get hit with bad news over the Internet. Good news travels fast, but man, bad news travels at the speed of light. People posted and shared the same three news articles a hundred times over. My newsfeed was completely overtaken with memorials dedicated to the boy, and that was completely foreign to me.

 

I was curious about how the kids in the community were reacting to this news, so I went straight to his Facebook page. His profile was public, so every personal sentiment was available to read. After about twenty minutes of reading I felt like I had known the kid well. Everyone posted: his homecoming date, his girlfriend, his best friends, and kids who didn’t know him well but needed to say a few words. It was in these words that I could collect the kind of person he was. All of the posts were equally heartbreaking and enlightening. Never before has the living been able to talk about those who have passed interactively. Kids commented on their classmate’s posts for support, and there was a strong feeling of community. The boy had already left a legacy of kindness that helped to unite a once- divided junior class.

 

  Social media plays a huge role in our lives, but I can honestly say I wasn’t expecting it to be so significant after death. I suppose that a person’s profile is a great way to remember them: alive and vibrant. Culture and tradition change faster than you think. Wakes used to last for a number of weeks, and we’ve changed that drastically. Will virtual memorials ever catch on? Maybe people’s loved ones will create websites as an ongoing tribute. I think the most remarkable thing I could gather from the posts is how comfortable people were posting their most private and sincere thoughts about the boy. We’ve reached an era where social media is significant in both life and death… somewhere I never thought we’d be.

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2 thoughts on “Facebook: A Millenial’s Memorial

  1. I’m so sorry for your loss… It is a terrible thing but as you mention, it is amazing to see how far we have come with social media in situations like these.

    There was a hit and run back home a few years ago. One brother was watching his younger brother but the younger one had taken his bike for a ride and never came back. The older brother had no idea where he could be, if something had happened, or if he had just gone to a friends house or something… After a few hours, the older brother started tweeting and FB at everyone he knew in town. And with the tweets and retweets and shared status and all, they finally found his brother. It was a sad moment but a process that could have taken hours or days only took an hour or so. And it showed how, while social media can ge a very bad rep at times, at times it can really bring people together….

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  2. I’ve heard of stories where people’s facebook accounts have continued to be active on peoples Newsfeeds even after they’ve died. For example if someone “likes” a page and Facebook decides to advertise that to you it’ll say “So-and-so likes _____.” This has got to be extremely hard for the person’s loved ones. I’ve heard cases where people have gone to the extent of unfriending people who have died because they can’t handle seeing their pictures while online. It’s extremely sad and brings us to a new area of whether facebook should give permission to people run post-mortom accounts. The whole situation is pretty unprecedented and Facebook will eventually decide on its policy that will affect tons of grieving people.

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