It’s no secret that social media usage has skyrocketed in recent years. According to statistica.com, “Instagram has roughly 130 million active monthly users within the US, and that number is expected to rise by 2022.” Worldwide, Facebook has over 2.7 billion users, and Twitter 330 million. On average, Americans are on social media sites for as long as 12 hours and 9 minutes a day. With the growth of social media usage, sharing one’s life on the internet has become something we as a society have come to normalize and accept. With this has come a potentially unintentional coping mechanism for grief.
According to Pew Research, 66% of American adults use social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to maintain connections with family members and friends (both old and new). And so if there are posts on social media sites sharing graduations and newborns, there are bound to be posts about setbacks and deaths.
There’s an underlying purpose of all posts on social media. Connection. Whether it’s a post about a new dog, a new hobby, weddings, graduations, a new job, — anything at all — every post’s motive of “look at me” also has a motive of “care about me.” Every post on social media is posted for attention, and despite the negative connotation that has, it’s human nature to have a desire to be wanted and seen.
“I just graduated” (“be proud of me”)
“I just got married” (“be happy for me”)
“Someone I love is going through a hard time” or “Someone I loved died” (“please help me”)
It’s not uncommon to see posts celebrating and commemorating wedding anniversaries or a child’s 5th birthday, and so it’s become seemingly more common to see posts that tribute the loss of a loved one. Not only is being vulnerable about loss and grief therapeutic, it’s an efficient way to ask for the support one needs to go through it.
“I’ve experienced grief for most of the second half of my life,” Class of 2020 McNick Alumnus Brendan Schoening said. “From my dad passing away to my grandpas and cousin all in a 2-year span… I posted [on social media] when my dad died and many other people I knew did as well.” Schoening added, “I think it is beneficial, [because] when you post something it causes awareness… it brings talks to the topic and also brings [people] to think about their family, pray for them, or if you know them, reach out to them.”
Sophomore Alli Plush said, “My brother Kyle passed away 2 years ago, and we were really close because we were close in age. When he passed away I saw a lot of posts of him from his friends which was nice because I got to see [pictures] that I hadn’t seen before and it helped to remind me of him.” Alli recently posted on Instagram on what would have been Kyle’s 19th birthday. “I like to post stuff like that because it reminds me [that] even though he’s not with us, it still reminds me he’s here and I’m not gonna forget about him,” Plush added.
My mom updates her status on Facebook every year on September 21, the day my dad died. There’s never a post like that without some comments and a good number of thumbs ups or hearts, and that’s the point. As Author Nora Mclnerny said, “We don’t move on from grief we move forward with it.” The pain that comes with “death days” is equivalent to the joy that comes with birthdays. Every social media post is a request for attention and human connection. It’s human nature to want that. And never are humans more bound for that connection than when we are at our highest highs and lowest lows.
Thumbnail image courtesy of The Drum.