Editorial: How social media can transcend death

As far as Twitter goes, Cory Monteith is still alive.

He isn’t actually, but his profile still remains active. His last tweet is from July 12, 2013, a day before the news of his death swept across the media.  His bio says he is tall, Canadian and a drummer but to everyone outside of the social media, he is long gone, merely a memory and barely a person.

It doesn’t take long for the death of someone famous to reach everyone in the internet sphere and beyond. Before you know it, media sources of all varieties are spewing the news across every platform and the celebrity’s death seems surreal. But despite the fact that Twitter exposes the news with no remorse, his account is the only part of him that remains preserved, still alive if you will, by none other than the otherworldliness of the internet.

Rather than closure, the profiles of the dead individuals creates a space for open grievance and personal connection. Not only do social media posts preserve the dead, they also offer a medium to cope. A person’s Twitter conserves their personal thoughts and mind jargon. A person’s Facebook profile acts as a memento of that person – a way to communicate to them, even if they do not see it. Posting a message on someone’s wall, whether for a birthday or a simple “I miss you” acts an emotional outlet for the friends and family that the person has left behind.  

One of the first things that crosses a person’s mind when they lose someone is how they are going to remember that individual. When a person no longer exists, it seems more difficult to mummify their presence; the person they were becomes nothing more than a stone in the ground or a pile of ash.

No one thinks to turn to the individual’s Twitter or Facebook for comfort. It seems strange to think about someone’s social media accounts when they die –  they live forever in the world wide web, untouched by anyone else. No one ever thinks about the true depth of personality that lies beneath every Twitter and Facebook profile, or how much of that individual is embedded in those internet personas.

Have you ever checked someone’s social media profile after they have died? It makes it feel as though they aren’t really gone, because how could they be when they tweeted Blink-182 lyrics eight hours ago? How could they really be dead if Facebook notifies you of their birthday?

While those things seem insignificant now in our vastly digital world, they may be one of the most important modes of preservation. Whether we choose to admit it or not, Twitter and Facebook protect the existence of the person that once lived. No matter how many days, months or years pass, that last tweet will always be there. Perhaps it acts as a solace, a reminder that that person did indeed exist. Family members may artfully piece together flowers and stuffed animals and place them near a grave with an air of “in memory of” but the Twitters, Facebook and even Instagram profiles of those who have passed transcend death in a way that memorials never can. The presence of personal thoughts and feelings of the individual remain and just like a brain, no one else but the individual ever had access.

I have never liked to visit someone’s social media profile after they have died, but that isn’t to say that I haven’t done it. However, it does bother me to see that side of them that will never continue. Perhaps the never-ending presence of a dead person’s Twitter cheats damnatio memoriae – a person is always remembered, their memory solidified in 140 characters. While a person may leave our lives, a social media profile alway remains; a digital imprint of personal words that stays within reach… as millennial as that sounds.

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