Death and Facebook
Like most, I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. On a particularly amorous day a few months back, I clicked my heels as I realized 20 years to the month we graduated that three quarters of my 8th grade class and I were friends. However, this was a short-lived joy owing to the jerkoff Farmville and Mafia Wars invites a handful of them kept sending me and the bevy of stalkerazi friend requests I was suffering during Facebook’s Y2K-style privacy meltdown.
Nostalgia and neurosis. The good and the bad of a ride on the Facebook train.
But then, suddenly, there was death. Death that did not coming dropping slow like the linnet’s wings (read your Yeats people) but, in the space of a week, death plastered all over my home page scroll down.
“I’m so sorry for your loss! I’m praying for you!”
“When’s the service? Please call! We’re here for you!”
“What a horrible tragedy! We’re all in shock!”
Fan pages (hey, Pink Vanilla has one of those!), bullshit “How Waco, Texas are you?” quizzes and corralling filthy farm animals aside (20 years I’m a vegetarian and thanks to Farmville I’ve never wanted to slaughter an animal so bad), Facebook is an ingenious invention of community and connection. Our online Y, if you will. So it makes perfect sense that we would connect to the community to break the news of loss, to keep vigil, to grieve.
Or does it?
The community is made up of individuals. Individuals who may be closer to some than others or, in the case of Facebook, individuals you might not be close to at all. Facebook friends are often randoms, people you’ve added out of altruistic courtesy, technological ineptitude or sheer voyeuristic boredom. The result is a community of friends who, hate to break it to ya, aren’t really your friends at all.
All this begs for new condolence etiquette. How does the individual respond to the community’s franticly punctuated and amateur obituaries? And, is posting your sorrow on someone’s profile page a kosher idea in the first place?
My triple death knell came courtesy of Facebook’s arbitrary filters. Frenzied posts between mutual friends found their way to my home page, spurring me to conduct ghoulish searches on friends and friends of friends’ pages for the 411. In the one case where a very close friend was affected, I was deeply saddened for her loss, but a strange anger toward the community also welled up in me. I resented learning of something so personal secondhand and in a public space. Instead of my friend calling or sending me a private message, an hysterical public was playing grim reaper. I immediately opted out of the community grieving, composing instead an intimate, private message.
The other deaths impacted two of my six degrees of separation friends. Being notified was awkward to say the least. Sure, it only takes thirty seconds to compose a short condolence. But because you don’t really know your friend, chances are they don’t know you either, and now certainly isn’t the time to come crawling out of the woodwork. So there you are, hovering on your friend’s profile page with a bizarre kind of guilt for having a friend you don’t even really know and can’t console at their darkest hour, and for thanking God that no one knows about your uncomfortable silence.
Except Him, that is.
What are your thoughts on breaking the news of someone’s death or posting public condolences on Facebook? Do you think it’s tacky, hysterical (as in emotionally irrational) awkward or acceptable 2.0 etiquette? Share!
Apparently I’m not the only one struggling with bizarro voyeuristic mortality issues when it comes to friend or foe Facebook. Check out this article “A Death on Facebook” by Kate Block in the September issue of The Atlantic. And if you’re not already an Atlantic reader, fire and brimstone are on the way.