Social media is changing how we view death; mourn those who have left us

Tuesday February 11 2020

Social media is changing the way we view death and how we cope with it. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


What a time to be alive, when we can debate and research about grief, because of how people use social media to come to terms with sudden loss of some close to them.

Platforms such as Facebook are used as grieving sites, where profiles of people who have passed on are still up. And every year, friends and families still post on their walls tagging them to memories and sending messages.

This is not done with social media sites alone, there have been cases of people still calling phone numbers of dead friends and relatives, as a way to grieve, and sending messages to them.

Last year, Facebook had reported that there were up to five million accounts of dead users, and that number is sure to increase. So what happens to these accounts? Who owns them and should they be shut down? Those who support maintaining those accounts say they are used as a method of grieving. I am sure you have seen it.

When someone passes and the first thing people do is write on their wall: RIP. Who are they expecting to see that? Data is an important asset, a gold mine for marketers, but when a user is dead, is it still that beneficial to marketers?

Social media is changing the way we view death and how we cope with it. In the last few weeks we have witnessed a basketball legend — Kobe Bryant — pass on and Kenya’s former President Daniel arap Moi, who is also a legend in his own right. People visited their social media sites to send messages of condolences to a family that will probably never be read due to overflow of information.


Death is an appointment we all must have. Emotions aside, what is interesting about debates that occur online, is the discussion revolving around legacy — whether one had left a good or bad one.

The two departed legends are from different parts of the world and of completely different lives — one of sport and the other of politics. But still the same kind of following and sycophancy. The kind of followership that great sportsmen receive can be witnessed in a political rally. Mind boggling, passionate and unquestionable.

There are people who only choose to see the good in an individual when they pass on. They hold a high esteem to the taboo of speaking ill of the dead, and acting as though the person was a saint, and justifying their bad actions in one way or another. Refusing to identify with the wrong that they ever did and argue that because it is death, it is not right.

Another camp would be vocal about their misdeeds, arguing that just because they are dead, their past actions should not be sanitised and white washed.

In 2002, when Moi stepped down, there were cheers all over the city. People were ready for him to go and chanting songs that said just that — they would be better off without him and things would progress without him. Many argue that the economy was doing much better than it is today.

Looking at the US, even after 200 years, the country is still grappling with what democracy is. President Donald Trump faced an impeachment process, and the true politician that he is, his state of the Nation of Address touched on matters that he has always been vocally against, from climate change to working with minorities. There he was fortifying his base and showing that he wants the best for his country. His ratings will go up because he brags about creating jobs.

When people are alive, we remember them differently. Which is human nature I guess. What is it about death that it is taboo to speak ill of the dead?

Social media is breaking the control of having one thought. Main stream media outlets continue to highlight the good in legends, especially politicians. Social media creates another narrative of thinking different, questioning status quo.

There’s a lot to come from a generation that only knows how to engage on social media. From advice to suicide notes.

Better believe that in the next few decades, not being allowed to speak ill of the dead taboos will be challenged.

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa is executive director of Siasa Place. Twitter: @NerimaW