Study on Facebook Mourning

February 12, 2014 · Posted in Research, Social Network 

A recent post in TechVibes alerted me to a new academic study of Facebook and mourning.

“Two researchers at the University of Toronto—Profeessor Rhonda McEwen and Librarian Kathleen Scheaffer—have completed a study on the methods and consequences of mourning on Facebook.”

According to the TechVibes article, the authors make 3 recommendations:

  • Offer “digital estate options” to determine who can control the profile postmortem.
  • Lock a dead person’s account, and automatically delete it after 50 years.
  • Enable Facebook friends the same access to the page, respecting the privacy filters. Disable direct messaging to prevent shenanigans. Remove the profile from search. Enable loved ones to create memorial pages.

Interestingly, I’ve advocated for years that users need more options to control what happens to their Facebook accounts after death. It’s good to see this coming from other voices too.

The abstract of “Virtual Mourning and Memory Construction on Facebook” is below. Get the full study here.

This article investigates the online information practices of persons grieving and mourning via Facebook. It examines how, or whether, these practices and Facebook’s terms of use policies have implications for the bereaved and/or the memory of the deceased. To explore these questions, we compared traditional publicly recorded asynchronous modes of grieving (i.e., obituaries) with Facebook’s asynchronous features (i.e., pages, photos, messages, profiles, comments). Additionally, by applying observational techniques to Facebook memorial pages and Facebook profiles, conducting a survey, and interviewing respondents as a follow-up to the survey, we examined the benefits of and issues surrounding online information sharing via Facebook when coping with the loss of another. We found that the immediacy of publishing comments, messages, wall posts, and photos provides Facebook mourners with a quick outlet for their emotions and a means of timely group support; however, these actions directly affect the online curation of the deceased’s self and memory and also create an environment of competition among mourners. The aforementioned benefits and complications of using Facebook during bereavement are shaped by the policies outlined by the social media platform.


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