Grief in the Digital Age – how memories are preserved and shared (video)

This documentary by 72U depicts my research results on point. How much people can share and learn about their loved ones through social media, and how much it gives comfort.

“Not all get to see their loved one like this.. I get to see him in YouTube whenever I want.”

“I’ve discovered that my son has crazy dance skills! His passion.. I wasn’t present on those moments, but his friends were.”

“If Tom’s Facebook page ever got deleted I would be devastated, like I’ve lost him all over again.”

“I’m looking at him through the eyes of others, how they saw him.”


Facebook ja kuolema-asetukset / Facebook and Legacy Contact

Yhteisöpalvelu Facebook on ilmoittanut muuttavansa asetuksiaan koskien käyttäjän tilin hallintaa tämän kuoleman jälkeen. Jatkossa Facebookin käyttäjä voi myöntää toiselle henkilölle tilinsä käyttöoikeuden menehtyessään, kertoo Washington Post. (Helsingin Sanomat*, 13.2.2015)

Facebook päätti vihdoin ja viimein muuttaa asetuksiaan, ja mahdollistaa nyt myös digitaalisen jäämistön hallinnan Facebookissa. Yksi väitöstutkimukseni isoimmista aineistoista tuli juuri Facebookin kautta. Ennen 2009 voimaan tullutta memorialisoinnin mahdollisuutta, useimmat perustivat muistoryhmiä läheistensä muistoa kunnioittamaan. Sittemmin memorialisointi mahdollisti itse edesmenneen profiilin säilyttämisen, mutta siten, ettei sovellus jatkuvasti muistuta yhteydenpidosta. Aiemmin ei kuitenkaan memorialisoituja profiileja ole eroteltu millään tavalla, vaan ne ovat jääneet ns. passiivisiksi tileiksi. Nyt uuden asetuspäivityksen myötä memorialisoituun profiiliin tulee merkintä “Remembering” henkilön nimen edelle. Asetukset tulevat voimaan aluksi vain Yhdysvalloissa.

Mutta miksi memorialisoida Facebook profiili? Monen mielestä Facebook on iso paha susi, jota tulee välttää kaikin keinoin. Surun ja kuoleman sattuessa sosiaalinen media, tässä tapauksessa esimerkiksi juuri FB, on kuitenkin surevalle ja hänen läheisilleen valtavan suuri voimavara, joilla tukea ja osoittaa välittämistään – kasvokkaisen kommunikoinnin oheella. Sosiaalinen media on mahdollistanut surevalle itselleen keinon olla yhteydessä muihin ihmisiin myös niinä vuorokauden aikoina, jolloin puhelimen ottaminen käteen tai vierailu ei vain tunnu oikealta. Joskus ei tarvita edes sanoja tai toisen fyysistä läsnäoloa, vaan ainoastaan jokin paikka ja keino saada mielen päältä pois sanat “kauhea ikävä”.


And same in English. Facebook will be – finally – changing its settings and allow a Legacy Contact, that would have the ability administrate your Facebook account in the case of your demise.

Today we’re introducing a new feature that lets people choose a legacy contact—a family member or friend who can manage their account when they pass away. Once someone lets us know that a person has passed away, we will memorialize the account and the legacy contact will be able to:

  • Write a post to display at the top of the memorialized Timeline (for example, to announce a memorial service or share a special message)
  • Respond to new friend requests from family members and friends who were not yet connected on Facebook
  • Update the profile picture and cover photo

Previously in 2009 Facebook enabled the memorialization feature, but this is a much needed update since it enables the curation of Facebook digital legacy in an easier way. Also, people themselves can decide whether they wish their accounts to be deleted after their death.

In my thesis Facebook was one of the most the biggest research material and easiest to track its development throughout the years, since I have been a user since 2009. Social media applications, such as FB, provide a possibility for the bereaved to connect and share support to one another, especially at times that might not enable or require a face-to-face meeting, such as in the middle of the night. Sometimes one might just need a place and a medium to get the grief ”off of their mind”, by posting on the group or memorial ”I miss you so much”. </span

*Hesarilla voitaisiin mielestäni opetella myös linkittämään jutun alkuperäislähteeseen. Pelkkä maininta “kertoo Washington Post” on laiskaa journalismia.

“The webpage cannot be found” – A research disaster

Strange things happen, when you do research online. In this particular case, when you do fieldwork online. I just found out this morning that my main fieldwork site in Second Life virtual world has been deleted due to financial difficulties of the owners. I wanted to log in and check a few details and maybe update my screenshots of new memorials, but no, the teleporting feature kept “dropping” me into an adult fun area (I have no idea why!), until I finally Googled the Remembering Our Friends memorial and found out it was closed 1st of March.

I felt terrible. I felt like someone slapped my face or burnt down the village where I did my fieldwork. The place is gone, the familiar place, where I have walked the past four years, reading the memorials, listening the birds sing and wind in the trees. Reading and watching and reading all the stories in the hundreds of the memorials in the three chapels of the area. Now all I have is the videos, screenshots and notes. And memories.

I was partly expecting this to happen, since, of course, everything that is online is subjected to the vulnerable fact that it is just pixels. Ones and zeros and entirely reliable on the fact that there is a computer and an internet connection for “traveling” that place. I have even written about this vulnerability in my articles and master’s thesis. I have described online material as a vanishing cultural heritage, since all it needs is a one mouse click to delete an entire site. “404 webpage not found” is the most horrifying thing that an online researcher can encounter.

This proves my point how very important it is to do a proper documentation of your online field. It can and will vanish any day and as a researcher my responsibility is to document what I see and hear in order to preserve even the description, the ethnography, of the world for others to remember.

Remembering Our Friends was provided by private funding by great people willing to create a safe place to mourn and honor the meaningful relationships we lose during our online and offline lives. I can only offer my deep condolences of this sad situation and wish I could have done something. Thank you Carlo Dufvaux and Mike Burleigh for this opportunity to be a part of what you created, even just for a small moment. I wish you all the best in life – in 1st and 2nd.


Fieldwork screenshot, 4.1.2011.