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Running

head: MOURNING & SOCIAL MEDIA

Mourning & Social Media:


A Look Into the Expression of Grief Through Facebook
Sarah L. Butcher
Carroll University

MOURNING & SOCIAL MEDIA


Abstract
As technology advances and forms of communication change, the social rules that
accompany communicative efforts are subject to reinterpretation. Examining how grief is
communicated through social media, specifically Facebook, it can be seen that the way mourners
interpret certain aspects of grief is continually evolving. Since the 1980s, social media has
grown at a rapid rate, and in more recent years has become a necessary component of day-to-day
lives. As a common medium of communication, we are currently facing a cultural lag where
societal rules are behind the advancing technology.
This cultural lag brings about the question of how we communicate life processes, one
prominent one being death/loss/grieving. As a new forum where members are posting,
commenting and sharing about personal grief or in support of those mourning, the social rules
behind what we find acceptable and what falls into the social taboo category are still
developing. It is often assumed that when people communicate their grief, it is a calling out for
support from others, however the data shows that although support is discussed, it is the
secondary effect from the need to share the human experience of death. Through this study,
participants discussed the themes: interpretation of support, timing of the post, informing of the
loss, allowing talk, sharing the experience, and the mourning process.
word count: 217

MOURNING & SOCIAL MEDIA


Though these social rules are still


forming, scholars have begun to pick up
various patterns within the realm of social
media as applied to the grieving process.
One of these rules is explained as the
experience of context collapse which
occurs because of the elimination of detailed
categories for the people that you interact
with through social media. Rather than
holding the titles of close friends, family,
co-workers, etc. their identities are
flattened into what are known as
friends, followers, and contacts. This
creates a melting together of people that
would otherwise be separated in all aspects
of your life (Marwick & Boyd, 2011; Vitak,
Lampe, Ellison & Gray, 2012, p. 379).
The complications from the melding
together of the varying relationships that

people hold in life is accompanied by the


publicness of the social media platform
creating what now exists as a quasi-public
(Marwick & Ellison, 2012, p. 379).
According to Marwick and Ellison, this
allows socially for strangers to weigh in on
topics that otherwise would be reserved for
family and close friends (such as death and
grieving). These strangers seem to fit into
three categories: Grief Tourists who have
the desire to participate in public grieving,
Trolls who purposefully make outrageous
statements (about the dead and bereaving) to
cause uproar among members (Marwick &
Ellison, 2012, p. 379), and the Bandwagon
hoppers who are interested in the mourning
process because they know other people
who are truly invested in it (Wandel, 2009,
p. 47).
Being strangers and knowing that the
Internet provides a source of anonymity, the
feedback in situations of grief and loss (or in
any subject matter) can sometimes be
insensitive to those who are in pain because
of the lack of personal connection and
possible negative consequence for saying
the wrong thing. This asks us to address the
question of what is the appropriate way to
convey sympathy through social media
whether you are related to the situation or
not.
In Wandels study of bereaved
students and their use of social media,
several students note that just saying, Im
sorry is not enough, and that if true
sympathy were present, the sympathizer
would take more time to write out a more
meaningful message (Wandel, 2009, p. 50).
In the years prior to the social media boom,
American culture traditionally demands
sympathy cards, flowers and/or face-to-face
interaction where both sides feel that an
adequate exchange has happened in order to
keep the relationship in good standing.
However, now with the ease of social media,
a new default has been created that all

Importance of the Study


With 29% of the worlds population
using social media (according to the
monthly active user MAU figures gathered
from each countrys most active social
networks), and 58% of The United States
population maintaining active social media
accounts, its essential that we understand
the social rules that guide communication
through this medium in order to create a
more effective way of communicating about
grief.
This study will reveal some of the
social rules we are continuing to construct
for ourselves as we communicate our grief
and loss on social media. With a better
comprehension of this, we can start to
unpack the questions that will come later
like How can we gain closure in loss
through public outlets? and What roles are
we expected to play when we know other
members of social media are facing loss?
Literature Review

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members can participate in: the blanket


statements of public grief. These are generic
sayings like, Sorry for your loss and
thinking of you, that are repeated
frequently and have crystalized within the
social setting that they now provide a steady
sense of solace (Morehouse & Crandall,
2014, p. 18).
Part of what is helping construct
these new social norms is the fact that
members of these platforms have a tendency
to govern themselves, providing an example
of the idea that we create our own society.
This governing can be seen through how
boundaries are co-constructed. As negative
comments are made on posts about grieving,
other members police the activity, shaming
the person who made an inappropriate
comment, which can be seen in Marwick
and Ellisons study. Trolls are also taken
care of in this manner; when inflammatory
remarks are made, moderators are asked to
remove the negative content.
This governing is enforced by the members
but ruled by the hierarchy based off of the
validity of the persons relationship to the
deceased, meaning that family members
command the most respect and hold the
most control within the social media realm
when it pertains to the deceased, then close
friends, acquaintances, co workers, and so
on down the line to strangers (Marwick &
Ellison, 2012, p. 389).
These rules have been established in
an effort to help protect/support those
suffering from the pain of loss, to help
maintain to image of the deceased and to
help create order among those involved. One
of the most prominent ideas that arise from
the public sharing of grief on social media is
the question of who has control over the
deceaseds image? The dead can no longer
protect, control or project the way they are
perceived, it is now the responsibility of the
community members. The impressions of
self are controlled by the posts that we

make, the comments we write and the items


we are tagged in on social media, which is
now the duty of the members to protect
(Markwin & Ellis, 2012, p. 380).
When conflict arises that can either damage
the deceaseds image or bring more pain to
the mourners, the hierarchy, as mentioned
before, comes into play. Settling disputes
about what the deceased person was like or
what beliefs they held. They act, in a digital
sense, as the power of attorney for those
who have passed.
Not only are the impressions of the
deceased controlled by the content of the
posts made, but also by the quantity or posts
and likes that occur with frequency. In
Markwin and Elliss study, posts analyzed
noted that based off of how many likes a
memorial page received, was a clear
indication for how much the deceased
person was loved. Because of this, many
creators of memorial pages make it a goal to
get as may likes as possible, even if the
people liking the page have no relation to
the situation of people involved.
Another study on posts memorializing the
dead found common themes among the
posts analyzed, some of which were that the
post was the mode for praise and admiration,
a biography for the deceased and a platform
for which the deceaseds values and beliefs
could be displayed (Carroll & Landry, 2010,
p. 345). This idea of creating a public space
as either a notification of death or a source
of remembrance is much different than its
predecessor the obituary where identities
were much more easily controlled and little
if any feedback could be given because of
their one-way communicative nature.
During the late 20th and early 21st
centuries, there was a rise in the use of
memorialization of the average person,
rather than just the important or famous
dead people. Physical objects began to
appear and take on new meaning with names
of the deceased carved into them. No longer

MOURNING & SOCIAL MEDIA


were people being buried and remembered


only by close loved ones, but now as each
person passed the marker of remembrance (a
bench, plaque, brick, etc.) they too were
reminded of a person they had never met
before (Maddrell, 2013, p. 509). This idea of
a public artifact can also be applied to the
memorial pages on Facebook. These pages
act as a connector between the living and the
deceased, just as the memorials that
Maddrell talks about in his analysis of
memorials.
Through Facebook and other social
networking sites, we continue to build our
history and identity that can never actually
be fully erased, because although one can
delete a post or a photo, somewhere in
cyberspace, it still continues to exist. In this
way, we have created the most permanent
form of memorialization of ourselves before
we even expire.
Facebook over the years has changed its
policy on what to do about such artifacts.
Before the idea of memorial pages came into
existence, Facebook would delete the
deceased persons profile. They ran into the
issue though of making it seem like that
person never existed in the first place by
deleting something that was an essential part
of their identity. They then adopted the
policy of turning the deceaseds facebook
page into a memorial page once informed of
the death. Through this process, no one else
can add the person, nor can strangers view
the page; it becomes a safe place for friends
and family to openly discuss and share
stories memorializing the lost loved one. As
of February of 2015, members can now
select someone to be a Legacy Contact,
which works like a will that lets members
inherit control of the deceaseds account.
Nina R. Jakoby, in her analysis of grief as a
social emotion notes that, according to
previous scholars, the emotions of the
grieving are controlled by feeling rules.
These rules are, in a sense, specified roles or

scripts provided by the culture on how to


express emotion, when to feel it, and how
long the grieving process can last (p. 691).
Roberts and Videl, as noted in Markwin and
Elliss study, said that memorial pages are
for the living though, rather than the dead. In
a society where we are forced to cut ties
with the dead and pushed to move forward
past the pain of grief, it is interesting that
through social media, we have created an
appropriate (or at least acceptable) mode of
extending the grieving process.
There is a belief in our society laid
out by J.W. Worden in his tasks for
accomplishing normalcy after loss through
which the bereaved has to acknowledge the
fact that their lost loved ones are not coming
back, they must recognize that they are in
pain and have to work through it, there is a
moment of readjustment to living without
the lost loved one, and then they must find
the appropriate place in which they can
express their emotions towards the loss.
However, despite our push to enter
normalcy as soon as possible, Maddrell
recognizes in his analysis, Paul Rosenblatts
remarks that, grief does not endStrong
feelings of grief for major loss will recur
over a lifetime. This acknowledges the fact
that those mourning on social media have a
need to be heard and gain support, (Wandel,
2009, p. 47). Through reaching out, these
members of the social media community are
creating visible, public symbols of grief, and
can in turn, extend the grieving process,
making it the new norm to continue to
mourn publicly rather than having their brief
moment in the public eye and then hiding
their emotion away. Through social media
and practicing virtual grief, the bereaved can
subtly seek solace forever. (Morehouse &
Crandall, 2014, p. 17).
This kind of environment is fostered
by grief circles (Morehouse & Crandall,
2014, pg 18) that help to support the

MOURNING & SOCIAL MEDIA


bereaved through the members all being able


to relate to each others grief and loss.
Although this out reach helps to build on
organizational,
small
group
and
interpersonal relationships with others who
are alive, several studies have mentioned
that memorialization seems to also be a way
to maintain the bond between the living and
the dead.
Maddrell discusses how (separate
from Social Networking Sites), we continue
to uphold the bonds we create with the dead,
whether its setting a place for them at the
dinner table each night, belief that they are
in an afterlife watching over us or other
rituals to try communicating with the
deceased (p. 505). Social media begins to
play a role in how we continue to direct our
language towards the dead, addressing them
through posts and comments as if they are
still alive and can respond. Similar to the
idea of praying to our loved ones in a
religious sense, asking for guidance on a
personal and individual level, this kind of
interpersonal/intrapersonal communication
is now being displayed on public pages. In
Marwick and Elliss study, there seems to be
discrepancy in whether or not his is
acceptable. In some cases, a stranger
addressing the dead was cast out as
inappropriate and silly because the dead
cannot respond. In other cases where loved
ones petitioned the dead, they were met with
support (p. 390).
The benefits of publicness in grief
mount to being able to connect with others
and create a large support system that in
very distinct ways (through commenting and
liking) can show their unwavering
encouragement to the bereaved. Social
media also allows for a larger demographic
of people can be reached rather than just
close friends and family and possibly the
geographically close community members
which allows for a larger funeral that can
help bring joy to a grieving family. Like

mentioned, there are no geographical


boundaries, meaning that support systems
have the potential to stretch across the world
while also letting loved ones who are far
from the deceased be a part of the mourning
process.
Where there are benefits, there are
also drawbacks. Members closest to the
deceased find that they receive a flood of
messages, good and bad. They feel as
though the out reach is cheapened because
instead of a thoughtful well-written card,
they are receiving short comments that leave
a lot of support to be desired. People will
tend to say something through social media
rather than in person because its less
awkward to communicate with anonymity.
Through this flood of messages, the grieving
members find it hard to actually escape the
tragedy because they are continually being
reminded of it (Wandel, 2009, p. 48).
This contention exists in multiple of
the aspects discussed through the studies,
showing that the rules for how to navigate
tragedy and grief on social media have yet to
be fully agreed upon. This method of
mourning allows for people to connect who
otherwise wouldnt have and gain closure
through mutual understanding (Marwick &
Ellis, 2012, p. 393). Bereaved members also
often feel that the support they receive at
social networking sites is more valuable than
the kind that they experience in more
traditional social settings. (Roberts, 2004,
p. 41).
Most research conducted on the topic
of social media and death looks at memorial
pages, much of the concepts talked about
have been used only in context with
memorial pages, however I believe they are
applicable to any part of public grieving
through social media. Wandel utilizes a
quote from Kitzinger from 1994, When
researchers want to explore peoples
understandings it makes sense to employ
methods which actively encourage the

MOURNING & SOCIAL MEDIA


examination of these social processes in


action. (Wandel, 2009, p. 45).
RQ1: How is grief and mourning
communicated through social media?

Methods
This study utilized qualitative data
from interviews conducted with fourteen
participants. The participants were all people
who had seen and followed up with a post
made on Facebook (Appendix; A1). The
post had been shared nineteen times. This
created a group of participants that were a
mix of both my personal friends (put in
quotations because of the nature of social
media and the redefining of relationships. In
this study, while referencing friends within
discussion, the definition being used is
acknowledging the group of people who
have access to and can participate in
Facebook happenings with the people on
their friend list) and my friends friends.
The same message was sent out to two
communication
courses
at
Carroll
University, and posted on a North Carolina
State University Anthropology Department
page.
From this post, I received various
Facebook messages and e-mails with screen
shots of posts made in mourning. The post
had to be made by the participant, and was
not limited to loss of human life. 14 of the
participants experienced the loss of another
human being, 1 of the participants
experienced the loss of a family dog. The
participants ranged in ages from 18 to 59years-old, mostly from Wisconsin, but some
from Alaska, Illinois, Arizona and
Minnesota. 13 of the 14 participants were
female.

7
Participants were not randomly
selected but instead were volunteers who
were willing and felt comfortable discussing
at length about their loss in a one-time
interview. Interviews were conducted both
over the phone and in person for the only
reason being geographical proximity to
participants. The post from each participant
was used as a starting point of conversation
and was the focal point of most of the
questions asked. These questions, because
of the nature of qualitative research, varied
by participant, but the core 11 questions
remained generally the same (Appendix;
A2).
The core questions asked about the
impact of the loss, how long after the loss
was the post made, what decisions were
made leading up to the post and the
interpretation of feedback on posts.
Once the interviews were done, each
was transcribed and analyzed. The analysis
process consisted of reading through each
interview, noting the common themes that
persisted through them and organizing the
data (portions of each interview) by the
themes to see the common and uncommon
characteristics within each.
Results
One of the most common topics
talked about through all of the interviews
was support; how it is interpreted, how it is
shown, its sincerity, etc. Most of the
participants noted that largely, the feedback
that they received could be interpreted as
support.
I just took it as a nice gesture.
It was nice knowing that people
took the time to comment and
that people cared about my
family, 7.H.M.

MOURNING & SOCIAL MEDIA


it was very heart warming to


see that people actually cared
and that they would reach out
after. 8.T.P.

Just friends reaching out,


saying how sorry they are, other
people telling their stories of
losing someone so young. Just
knowing that people care about
other people 13.K.S.

given through social media based off of the


relationship that they shared with others.
The data was split between two ideas of how
the relationship with someone can impact
the type of feedback both given and
received. The first was that people who were
closer to the poster would be more apt to
give feedback through commenting as well
as liking, where as people with a more
distant relationship would only like the
post.

Several participants noted their


surprise in the support that they did or didnt
receive. Two participants disclosed that
prior to their post, they didnt realize the
extent of their support system:

Yeah, I think all of them were


closer to me, the ones that
commented. The ones that liked
were more acquaintances.No
acquaintances
really
commenting. 8.T.U.

Just knowing that there were


more people than what I thought
I could go to with this, it was
veryit was overwhelming like
the whole situation, but just
knowing that was more than I
thought in a good way. I really
appreciated it. 14.S.D.
I didnt realize that I had a
tribe of people who loved me so
unconditionally
until
that
experience. -6.C.M.
I feel like I expected a lot more
likes or comments, I had no
comments. I dont know if people
just didnt know what it meant or
didnt bother to ask. 9.A.H.
All the participants discussed the
importance of support during difficult times
and times of loss, whether it is being the
person to show the support, or the need to
receive the support from others. Most talked
about a difference in the type of support

I think a lot of the comments


were people who were related to
me, but a lot of the likes were
people who had also known him a
lot and some of his family.
9.E.E.
The majority of participants viewed
the relationships with those providing
feedback as those who were closer to the
poster or their situation would either contact
through private message or step outside of
social media all together and contact the
poster through phone or in person to show
support. This left the poster recognizing the
feedback as coming from relationships with
people they werent as close to, like
acquaintances rather than friends and family.
if someone was actually close
to me, they werent just posting
on
Facebook.it
wasnt
necessarily people Im super
close to that were commenting
or posting. 13.L.B.

MOURNING & SOCIAL MEDIA



I think the ones that commented
arent as close to me and wanted
to show some level of support
without being so close to me.
And to me, thats fine and
appropriate and appreciated.
25.L.S.
I would comment, but I would
probably
private
message.
Because I feel like thats more
sincere- okay well, they are both
sincere- but I feel like if youre
intentionally messaging them,
youre more intentional about it,
saying like hey Im going
through something similar,
13.S.D.
Some of it is very sincere,
others its just kind of on the
surface, like hey, feeling for
you where other will reach out,
like Ill have some friends that
will see it and text me
immediately and I prefer that
because thats them reaching out
to me instead of leaving a
comment. 5.M.W.
it depends on the person, if I
had a close-ish relationship with
them, I would comment but I
would also go beyond that and
call them or something.
11.P.K.
if Ill post a picture or just post
something thats just thinking
about him on a day or
something, most of the comments
are just very generic like,
sending hugs or sending
love and most of those, I dont
even register that they are there
because those are the things that

9
everybody says those things very
remotely and very kind of,
whatever. 12.L.O.
This then delved further into
situational support. Multiple participants
said that if someone posted a similar they
would be more inclined to private message
the poster.
people who go through the
same thing, I really try to reach
out to because its like finding a
needle in a haystack. Like
Obviously people have probably
lost a lot of people through
death, but like when you find one
thats similar to yours, you
really want to reach out. its
sadly refreshing to see someone
else post that, because then you
have someone who gets you on
that level. 12.M.W.
about the passing of peoples
parents, if were close, I
definitely reach out to them a lot
more
personally
than
commenting on Facebook, like
Ill call them or Ill actually visit
them or send them a card,
depending on the relationship.
But if I dont know them that
well, but I still want them to
know I care, that I saw actually
would be something, even if I
dont know them that well,
knowing what I went through
and knowing their experience, I
would
definitely
leave
a
comment. 14.L.B.
A common discussion among people
since Facebook came about has been what

MOURNING & SOCIAL MEDIA



exactly a like represents when the
situation presented is not necessarily a
likeable idea, so when it comes to grieving
loss, most of the participants either looked at
likes as a form of support or
acknowledgement or even as something
obligatory.
It means that theyve read it,
theyve thought about you, that
they understand what youre
going through or they feel
compassion for what youre
going through. K.S
.
Thats kind of how I view
likes kind of as a support, kind
of a yeah I hear you, I
understand you. I acknowledge
that this is rough what youre
going through. 7.L.O.
Its just nothing significant to
me. 8.P.K.
One of the last forms of support was
much smaller and less utilized than
anticipated when starting this study: that is
the use of Facebook group pages. Three
participants discussed group pages, but only
two had used them through their mourning
process.
I know people in my church
group said they prayed, a lot
reached out to me outside of
Facebook after seeing that and
asked how they could help and
pray. 17.L.B.
I feel like in those groups thats
all they talk about, which I
understand you should, theres
some days when thats all I want
to talk about but then theres

10
also, theres things outside of
that. So I havent really
belonged to any. 8.M.W.
Six of the participants said that they had
made their post less than twenty-four hours
after they learned about the death, two said
they posted about it within a month and two
other participants had said they made the
post either half a year or over a year after
learning about the death. Reasons varied,
especially for those who posted after the
most common twenty-four hour time
window.
For a long time I was really
angry that the days were going
on because that meant I was
getting further and further away
from when he was actually
here I went to his Birthday [on
the deceaseds wall] that was
October 25, 2011, I posted
something. So thats a little after
a year because it just took me
time to be like its okay to move
on from the incident and its
okay to be able to talk about it.
10.M.W.
At first, it was not on my radar
that social media existed. I was
just dealing so much with the
day-to-day and getting through
everything that the concept of
being out there and posting
something wasnt even on my
radar as something to do. It
wasnt until one of his friends
had sent me a message that said,
you know, it really helps me
seeing all this stuff. . So that
was what prompted me to put
something up there. 5.L.O.

MOURNING & SOCIAL MEDIA



A large amount of the participants
discussed using the post to inform others of
the loss. Many had used it as a way to let
people know about the death rather than
make difficult phone calls. A couple of
participants noted that it was easier on them
to post about it than it was to continue to
talk about it before they were ready.
It was already hard enough
that my dad died, I didnt want
to be making all these personal
phone calls to people.it was
just easier, much easier,
dramatically easier to make a
mass thing about it. 8.L.B.
I was still trying to process
what happened but I also needed
to tell other people what had
happened, like people that I
wasnt as close to but I knew
that they would still want to
know. 7.S.D.
A common theme that appeared in
several interviews was the idea of allowing
talk meaning that through posting on social
media, participants granted permission for
others to talk about what is otherwise
considered an off-limits topic: death.
Participants seemed to find relief in being
able to converse about death in what they
marked as a socially acceptable way.
Its nice to know we can talk on
a level of not being hushed about
him. Its out in the open and its
not a negative conversation to
have, its always a happy one.
8.A.H.
I feel like its more accepting
now to post about something
death related. 9.A.H.

11

It just felt like there were


people that I could turn to. It
probably might not come up in
normal conversation but people
just wanted to say, I understand
what youre going through.
8.E.E.
I just wanted people to be open
about itI was just like, I know
what happened, its okay to talk
about it now. 8.S.D.
I guess its just a way, because
I dont really want to bring it up
in friendly discussion, like I
really miss my dad, can we talk
about it right now? So its nice
to be able to post on Facebook
and be like, hey, Im missing my
dad, Im just going to put it out
here and if anyone wants to say
anything, that would be great.
3.M.W.
Allowing Talk feeds into the social
acceptance of sharing the experience of loss
and death with others in a public platform.
Participants showed a need to share their
experience with other people as well as
share in commemorating the loss of life.
Three participants said that they used
Facebook as an outlet for what they were
thinking and feeling at the time of the loss.
Five other participants said that they either
felt the need to share or that death was part
of life and that it was normal to share in that
experience with others, they did so through
posting about the loss on Facebook.
In a way, its definitely a good
outlet, because I can share my
memories with my friends and
family that I dont get to see

MOURNING & SOCIAL MEDIA


12

often.Its easier to click a post


about this is a memory of what
me and my dad did instead of
trying to write it out in a letter.
10.S.D.

thoughts and feelings on the loss, but also as


a form or memorialization for the deceased.
In sharing memories through stories and
photos, participants seemed to pay tribute
and commemorate their lost loved one.

I honestly believe that for


myself, if I dont talk about it
and I dont share, it will fester
and it gets bigger than it should
be inside. 3.L.O.

I mean, I guess in social media,


I do have a tendency to share
things that are going on in my
life, or share things that
commemorate things in a way,
so like finding a picture is useful
because my family loves to see
that stuffI know they like
seeing that stuff, and also like I
mean I guess Its kind of
commemorative, like this is still
important to me. 11.L.B.

I dont know, that was the only


picture, so I just kind of felt
compelled to share. I dont share
a lot, but just from like strong
emotions and just showing how
much I appreciated her even
though she cant see it. 5.T.U.
Its thought of more as another
step in life, rather than an end.
Its seen as an addition to your
life on earth, so its seen as a
positive annotation to it rather
than just a negative you die,
your soul dies kind of thing, so
thats why its more accepted.
10.A.H.
Just sharing, letting other
people know how you feel,
finding out what they think and
what they feel. Basic social
media conversations. 16.K.S.
Its really important for us, as
people, to have people witness
us; not to do anything, not
contribute necessarily, but to
witness which is validating I
think. 8.C.M.
Not only did participants use
Facebook as a way of sharing their own

It was basically like a tribute


and also letting people know that
she was no longer alive. Just
kind of celebrating her life.
4.H.M.
to have closure, but also to
keep his memory around, like I
showed the picture to my
grandma when I submitted it to
you, and she knew right away
that it was a knee cap. 8.A.H.
When asked if they believed social
media had an impact on their grieving
process, most participants didnt think it
made much of a difference and that their
process would have been the same without
social media. Some noted that it had made
communicating the loss easier, but otherwise
had no impact. However, through analyzing
the data, it was found that for several
participants it helped to move through the
denial stage. The data also showed that it
has so far helped though the last stage of

MOURNING & SOCIAL MEDIA



grief, acceptance by bringing a sense of
closure.
I think part of it was just
getting out some of the angst and
maybe cementing it in reality.
4.R.O.
I think it might have helped me
to gain closure in that it gave me
a chance to say what you could
have said to someone that you
never got a chance to, but I dont
think it really connected me
more to the loss. 10.E.E.
it kind of helped me to process
it a bit, like to put it into words.
5.P.K.
It helps me to get better with
dealing with all of that so I
probably will continue to post on
his birthday, the day he passed.
Fathers day is another big one
too. They just always help me, so
I think Ill continue to do that.
4.M.W.
I think it helped me to move it
along because it was really
positive feedback and support, I
think that it helped me feel better
inside. I mean its a part of life,
death is, but I think that knowing
people are there for you helps to
speed the process up.
13.H.M.
I think it has allowed me, on
times when Im feeling really
like this is never going to get any
better and its never going to get
any easier, I can look back at,
lets say the first year, or the first
few months and go, wow, no,

13
actually I am way more
functional than I was back then,
or I do have more good days
now. 10.L.O.
I think when I first found out, I
didnt want to go through any of
that, but going through it right
away, we had to find pictures for
the picture boards at the funeral,
I went through and I think it
helped actually, because I just
dove right into it. Because
obviously I have to look at
everything and so I think its
helped me in a way to really
understand the situation.
17.S.D.
Discussion
The common themes of Support
(type, relationship impact, situational and
community), timing (within a day, a month,
six months or a year and over), the need to
inform (ease of communicating death
through social media), allowing talk (the
opportunity to discuss death), sharing the
experience,
memorialization
(and
commemoration), and the impact that all of
this has had on the mourning process
emerged allowing us to better understand
how people are communicating grief and
mourning through social media, Facebook
specifically.
These findings add to previous
research on the topic, bringing to light a
different side of mourning through social
media: how we understand the interpersonal
relationships we are in and how we interpret
the messages being sent depending on the
relationship and the means by which they
are sent. The data that shows participants
allowing talk plays into the dynamic that
Marwick and Ellison (2012, p. 379) discuss

MOURNING & SOCIAL MEDIA


14

about the creation of a quasi-public, where


social media allows for strangers to partake
in the grieving process because of the posts
publicness.
Many of the participants had noted
that liking or commenting on the post was
the action of acquaintances. Close friends
were more likely to private message, text,
call or talk in person with the bereaved.
Wandel (2009, p. 50) noted that according to
college students in mourning, true sympathy
is shown through a more meaningful, well
written response rather than a quick
comment of sympathy on the post.
Where much of the previous research
analyzes the deceased and the image
portrayed by the people posting publicly
about the dead, the data from this study
focuses more on the bereaved persons. From
the data collected, the way in which people
are communicating grief and mourning in
this age of social media differs through the
social rules that are the governing power of
communication. Where previously, it was
not uncomfortable in social situations to
discuss death and the mourning process (at
least in Western culture), now Facebook
offers a new platform to discuss these
sensitive subjects. Through allowing talk
those experiencing the loss grant permission
to their friends on Facebook to talk to
them about the loss, which brings about the
discovery of a support system that may or
may not have been there from the beginning.
This also provides an opportunity to be part
of someone elses support system through
being informed about a loss that one may
not have known about before the use of
social media in this way.
This opens up the re-interpretation of
social rules, or even the elimination of
previous rules and the implementation of
new rules. As mentioned before, every
culture has to adapt to its advancing
technology; a quintessential piece of every
culture is communication, and since new

channels have come into existence in the last


couple decades, and even more recently,
social media in the last decade, its necessary
to analyze how we are creating these rules
and morphing the way we communicate.
Through this study, the uncertainty in what
is acceptable and what is not persists but is
lessening.
All of this being said, its important
to note that this is a small sampling of
people, most of which were females.
Though the age and location variety was
decent, limitations arise through the lack of
variety in gender. Another drawback of the
study lies in how participants were gathered;
posting on my own page limited my
demographic to my friends and my friends
friends. This study would also be better
conducted with face-to-face discussion to
help build rapport with participants rather
than interviewing some over the phone and
some in person.
Future research could be looked at
through a sociological, anthropological or
communicative lens. Because each one
impact the others, it would be beneficial to
understand and conduct research that
encompasses all of them to help provide a
better understanding of each of the
components. Looking further into the idea
of allowing talk and the social rules around
permission granting through indirect
communication seems to be one of the
developing rules that are going to be
governing how we communicate through
social media.
The next few steps to understanding
the development of communication lie in
understanding the rules that govern it.
Through doing so, a more effective form of
communication can be obtained. The social
and cultural norms of our society are formed
through communication and communication
is shaped through our social and cultural
values and ideas. This study exemplifies the
beginning of the communicative changes of

MOURNING & SOCIAL MEDIA



this age of social media, which reflects on
the changes in the social norms surrounding
the mourning process. The importance of
this research lies in the question: if we dont
understand the inner workings of the
There is a tendency to believe that when
grief is expressed through social media, that it is
the call for support from those in mourning. But,
when one examines the data, support (although
a large part of the discussion) is often secondary
in its efficacy. Participants used Facebook as a
means of sharing their human experience with
other people, whether it was to inform, vent,

15
developing process of grief, how can we
help those in mourning?
Conclusion
memorialize or grant others permission to speak
about what is otherwise unspeakable. The
previously accepted social rule that Support is
the
conceptualized
aftermath
of
this
vulnerability, seen blatantly through the
feedback given in response to this, now public,
experience.

MOURNING & SOCIAL MEDIA



References for Literature Review

Carroll, B., & Landry, K. (2010). Logging on and letting out: Using online social networks to grieve
and to mourn. Bulletin Of Science, Technology & Society, 30(5), 341-349.
Jakoby, N. R. (2012). Grief as a social emotion: Theoretical perspectives. Death Studies, 36(8), 679711. doi:10.1080/07481187.2011.584013
Maddrell, A. (2013). Living with the deceased: absence, presence and absence-presence. Cultural
Geographies, 20(4), 501-522.
doi:10.1177/1474474013482806
Marwick, A., & Ellison, N. B. (2012). There isn't wifi in heaven! Negotiating visibility on Facebook
memorial pages. Journal Of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56(3), 378-400.
doi:10.1080/08838151.2012.705197
Morehouse, K. J., & Crandall, H. M. (2014). Virtual grief. Media Development, 61(3), 16-19.
Roberts, P. (2004). Here today and cyberspace tomorrow: Memorials and bereavement support on the
web. Generations, 28(2), 41-46.
Wandel, T. L. (2009). Online empathy: Communicating via Facebook to bereaved college students.
Journal Of New Communications Research, 4(2), 42-53.

16

MOURNING & SOCIAL MEDIA


Appendix
A1:
Hello Friends!
I am currently in my Communication Capstone class (similar to senior thesis)
and am conducting a research project on how we communicate mourning, grief
and support through social media. The main platform Im looking at is
Facebook. If you are interested in this and/or have experienced this and are
willing to help me with my research and data collection, heres how you can
help:
1. E-mail me a screen shot of a post that you have made in regards to loss,
mourning, grief, etc. on Facebook. Include all the comments (fully expanded)
and the likes and shares. After, I will ask a series of questions about the post, the
situation, and your reaction.
AND/OR
2. Share this post with your friends to help me expand my demographic for my
research.
If you are interested and would like more information, please e-mail me at:
sbutcher@pio.carrollu.edu
All personal information in regards to names will be kept confidential, and this
information will be used only with your consent and only for my study.
Please note that if you dont feel comfortable at any point during the process of
data collection, you have the power to stop at any time for any reason. The most
important aspect throughout this entire study is that all participants are
comfortable the entire time with the information they are providing.
That being said, I would sincerely appreciate your help with this, thank you!

17

MOURNING & SOCIAL MEDIA


A2:

Interview Questions:

1.

What did this loss mean to you?

2.

How did it impact your life?

3.

After the loss, how long did it take you to post about it on Facebook?

4.

How often do you post about the loss?

5.

Do you feel supported through the post(s)?

6.

What kind of communities within Facebook do you belong to that help you to mourn?

7.

The people who comment on the post(s), what is their relationship to you?

8.

What does posting about the loss mean to you?

9.

What kind of feedback have you received for posting about the loss?

10.

What do you interpret likes as on posts like this?

11.

What kind of feedback would you give someone else posting about grief? (likes, shares,
comments [if comments, what would they say depending on the relationship?])

18