A Little Bird Told Me You Died. Tweeting Grief.

Twitter provides us with a wonderful platform to discuss or confront societal problems. We trend Justin Bieber instead.
— Lauren Leto

I do not have any beef with Justin Bieber.

I do not listen to his songs. I know his name, and that is about it. I know that he is 22 years old and planning his funeral. Good on him, that makes genuine sense.

Trending Justin Beiber though, may just be a waste of the power of Twitter.

How are people tweeting about significant issues in life like grief, loss, and death?

I enjoy using twitter. I would say it is one of my favourite social networks. If you have not done so already, please follow me here. 

Twitter has its annoyances. I get fed up of people always posting links. Do you? 

It is a plague on Twitter.  

I like to post questions. I like to post quotes, and I like to engage in 140 characters or fewer quick chats. Of course, I do post links and have found some excellent links on Twitter. See the footer on this post for instance. (Thanks @TheGriefGeek )

Twitter is about having a conversation. 

Lauren Leto is spot on. Twitter is an incredible, responsive platform for networking and having conversations. It allows us to discuss serious life issues around #digitallegacy #deathtech #palliativecare with a quick hashtag search.

If you dig around a bit, you can start to find that Twitter in 140 characters or less is discussing the ever present issues of #death, #dying, #grief and #bereavement.

Tweeting Grief

At the August 2016 meeting of the American Sociological Association in Seattle, Nina Cesare and Jennifer Branstad presented a paper - 'I miss you so much': How Twitter is broadening the conversation on death and mourning.' Their findings explain how conversations online about death are moving from private and personal, to public and digital. (Interestingly, they are not that active as Twitter users.)

The researchers analysed Twitter feeds from 37 people that had died. People tweet messages to and about those people in different ways than other social media platforms. They observed that while on Facebook messages are personal, usually from those who knew the person who had died. Twitter is different. Anyone can see a feed of tweets on a public profile. Cesare and Branstad found that the conversations often would spread to other topics connected to the death of the person. For an example, topics such as suicide, mental health issues or gun control. 

Here are some of their findings:

  • Some users maintained bonds with the dead person by sharing memories and life updates ("I miss cheering you on the field")
  • Some posted intimate messages. ("I love and miss you so much.") While others commented on the nature of the death. ("So sad reading the tweets of the girl who was killed.")
  • Others expressed thoughts on life and mortality ("Goes to show you can be here one moment and gone the next")
  • Some users made judgmental comments about the deceased. ("Being a responsible gun owner requires some common sense -- something that this dude didn't have!")

The researchers call for something I have campaigned for, and that is a new digital #deathetiquette.

New norms will have to be established for what is and isn’t appropriate to share within this space.” “But I think the ability of Twitter to open the mourning community outside of the intimate sphere is a big contribution, and creating this space where people can come together and talk about death is something new.
— Nina Cesare

The People's Princess

As I write this post (31st August 2016), Twitter is alive with conversations about the death of Princess Diana. It happened 19 years ago today. A national newspaper reprints some of those tweets.

People are still remembering the feelings of #loss and #grief they felt the day they heard that news for the first time. 

Millions of tweets today are being posted about Gene Wilder. The star of many films including #willywonker who died on 29th August 2016.

This public outpouring of grief and loss reads like a trip down a childhood memory lane. The public conversations of how he impacted people's lives openly share their grief at his passing.

Outpouring sadness and loss in these ways is unique and distinctive to Twitter. 

For a couple of interesting articles to read on this subject try:

Tweet Me!

What do you think? Have you used Twitter to express grief and loss? How? Who to? Why did you use Twitter to express that grief? I would love to hear from you if you have. Please tweet me, email me, or write in the comments below your stories. Tell me your twitter handle and I will follow you!

Are You Looking For Interesting People To Follow On Twitter? 

Try these top 10 people to follow who tweet on subjects like #funerals #digitallegacy and #grief