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Grieving with Facebook

Conference paper
Authors Ylva Hård af Segerstad
Mathias Klang
Published in Internet Research 13.0: Technologies, Association of Internet Researchers
Publication year 2012
Published at The Linnaeus Centre for Research on Learning, Interaction, and Mediated Communication in Contemporary Society (LinCS)
Department of Applied Information Technology (GU)
Language en
Keywords parental grief, online grief support, social media
Subject categories Human Aspects of ICT


Social changes in western societies have over a long period been experiencing the privatization of death (Kearl, 1989). Processes such as social, geographic mobility and urban density have enhanced the process of privatization and loss of community. In relation to death, Ariès (1981) argues, that the community feels less involved in the death of one of its members. Large-scale social networks, such as Facebook, demonstrate several of the symptoms that Ariès (1981) related to the loss of community in modern life and can be seen as the ultimate large-scale population of mobile actors with weak ties. While these weak ties (Granovetter, 1983) have been seen as being useful connections (Ellison et al., 2007) they are often experienced and described as superficial (Tom Tong et al., 2008; Carr, 2011; Turkle, 2011). However, in the midst of this superficial social network several profound communicative acts take place. Among them, and the focus of this work, is the use of Facebook as a tool for coping with death, grief and mourning. There is an important distinction between grief and mourning. The former is an emotional reaction while the latter is the cultural norms associated with expressing grief (Kearl, 1989). The goal of this work is to look at the ways in which Facebook is being used communicatively, therapeutically and socially to express intimate messages relating to the death of a close family member. The work primarily explores the communication from the point of view of the bereaved and attempts to understand the goals and rationale for posting the information on Facebook. The work presented here is based on a mix of qualitative interviews and survey material in an effort to explore a wide range of questions relating to the use of Facebook in the grief process. The questions explored include, but not limited to, what the poster hoped to achieve through his/her communication, what were the expected reactions through sharing material in this way, how contacts reacted (language, tone, methods, channels) and the impact of these responses. The overriding question is to gain further information about their use of Facebook and the responses they obtained as these pertain to the grief process. The importance of the connections must be understood from the point of view of the grieving individual – if a purposeful connection or communication is made then the social network serves an important part in the grieving process. The material points to users having seen benefits with using Facebook as a part of their grief process. Many point also to the advantages afforded by social networks which would have been complex or costly to do in an offline environment. This work is part of a larger research project focusing on death and Facebook, where this sub-project strives to understand whether social norms are developing within the framework of large-scale social networks and if so what will be the impact on the long-term trend of privatized mourning. The results of this work will show the fallacy of solely looking at large-scale social networks as shallow or superficial.

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