How social media is changing the way we grieve

20 June 2019

The reach of social media is so widespread that there is almost no aspect of daily life which has remained untouched by its influence.

How social media is changing the way we grieve

Here, we look at how the process of coming to terms with loss and arranging a funeral has been irrevocably altered by the development of social media.

Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Oxford reported that by 2070, Facebook could have more profiles of deceased users than of those who are alive. The leading social media platform endeavours to delete such accounts but typically, when someone passes away, the last thing the family think to do is arrange for the deceased’s Facebook page to be ’memorialised’. The result is thousands of ‘ghost’ social media profiles, which can be heartbreaking for friends and family members to see – especially when they are annually invited to wish their loved one a happy birthday. It can be equally confusing for more distant relatives or old friends who may be unaware that the person is no longer alive.

While the above can be difficult and increase the impact of grief, social media has also helped millions of people to find the right resources for dealing with the loss of a loved one. When Sky Sports TV Presenter Simon Thomas lost his wife to cancer in 2017, he and his son were left completely devastated. But instead of grieving privately, Thomas took to Instagram to document his grief, with a view to helping others in similar positions and creating a supportive and inclusive community online. The response has been overwhelming and it is clear that Thomas has helped thousands by sharing the difficult process of explaining his wife’s death to his son and speaking openly about the daily pain of grief.

Social media even plays an enormous part in arranging a funeral. Various platforms can be used to find funeral ideas, share venue and provider recommendations and make more informed decisions when it comes to choosing the right funeral director.

Perhaps one of the biggest improvements social media has made to the way funerals are arranged is with helping people to find out when a service will take place. Often, social media is the place where more distant relations will find out that someone has died in the first place. The widespread reach of social media can help the family to let people know that someone has passed away, to generate charitable donations and provide details such as the time and location of the funeral service. It is impossible to know how many lives one person can touch over the course of a lifetime and it is likely that there are people who would like to be given the opportunity to pay their respects at a funeral service, but without social media, may never know when it will be taking place. Social media enables people to learn about upcoming funeral services, pay their respects online, and even attend the funeral if they so choose.

For many people social media and mortality are uncomfortable bedfellows. But as the policing and regulation of social media improves, as does society’s understanding of online responsibility, it has the potential to connect people like nothing before.