Death, especially of a loved one or a public figure, has always been difficult for people to deal with, and always will be. Living in this world and surviving to old age means a person will see their grandparents, their parents, beloved pets, idols and role models all die, and such losses usually require a grieving process. Everybody copes from their own traumas in their own ways, but technology has opened a door to a vastly more public sphere of mourning than almost ever before.
The death of loved ones, while traditionally a private affair that would be told to those who were close enough to the individual to need or deserve to know, is now often shared like a family newsletter. On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, there are countless posts mourning the loss of loved ones. Would you want such a public display of the event of your death? Shared to thousands of people, many of which you probably don’t know? That isn’t a very appealing thought to me, but there are some benefits of this novel and nuanced grief platform. There is a sense in which Facebook and other social media sites make your mourning, your call for support, more immediate than even an email or a letter. In sharing with everyone at once, we intentionally, if subconsciously, abuse people’s Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). This usually leads to a greater influx of messages of condolences, which have some comfort to add that is, importantly, very easy to give.
But as we know, the internet is also filled with people who dedicate themselves to antagonizing other people, even over such sensitive topics. We all know what trolls are, but where do they come from? Why is grief trolling worth anybody’s time? Phillips mentions a troll she met in her research who says that a “standard response to criticism of trolling is an emphatic HEY GUYS THE POWER BUTTON IS RIGHT THERE.” Yes, a solution to avoid trolls is not entering the public spaces where they have some rights to say what they want. But grief and mourning pages on Facebook and other relatively, for lack of a better phrase, family-friendly platforms seem like the wrong hill to take your stand for free speech on. Do these trolls and their motivations say something about our society? Are we just becoming less empathetic? I don’t think we know enough yet about the situation to say, but there is clearly a big shift happening in the way we experience loss as a culture, especially the way we express our feelings and share our condolences.