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(p. 96) The Role of Digital and Social Media in Supporting Bereaved Students 

(p. 96) The Role of Digital and Social Media in Supporting Bereaved Students
(p. 96) The Role of Digital and Social Media in Supporting Bereaved Students

Carla J. Sofka

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date: 21 February 2018

According to a recent survey documenting the use of technology, 88% of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 have access to a mobile phone, with a majority (73%) having smartphones (Lenhart, 2015). Ninety-two percent of the teens in this study reported going online daily, with 24% saying they are online “almost constantly” (p. 2), aided by access to an average of three or four devices (a desktop or laptop computer, smartphone, basic phone, tablet, and/or game console). A survey by Common Sense Media reported that teens spend an average of 1 hour and 11 minutes each day on social media, with vast differences in the use of “screen media” (watching TV, using social media, listening to music, playing video or mobile games, reading, browsing websites, or other online activities). Six percent of teens don’t use screen media at all, and 17% use it for two hours or less; 31% of teens spend four to eight hours with screen media, and 26% use screen media for more than eight hours a day (Rideout, 2015).

Imagine that a friend or family member of one of your teenage students dies. Since digital and social media often have a significant role in the life of an adolescent, there is a strong possibility that he or she may find out about the death in a manner other than face-to-face notification by a trusted family member, friend, or familiar adult. Since a significant number of teens use Facebook (71%), Instagram (52%), or Twitter (33%; Lenhart, 2015), it is highly likely that these and other types of social media or communication technology will play a role in how teens receive information about the death of a friend or family member and how they cope with their grief.

The constant evolution of “thanatechnology” (digital and social media resources that are used in death education and grief counseling) has affected the (p. 97) ways that we deal with loss and grief (Sofka, 1997). The ever-growing popularity of social media use among teens has created new opportunities and potential risks related to their expression of “virtual” or “digital” grief. In December 2012, I gained a new respect for the importance of understanding how social media are being used by adolescents while watching my 15-year-old daughter use social media to provide support to the two survivors of a car crash who attended high schools in two neighboring communities (subsequently referred to as the “518 case” due to our area code; see the news report at Insights gained from social media users in the “518 case” about their experiences will also be included in this chapter. Using information from case studies and research that focuses on social media use among teens and young adults, this chapter will (1) provide an overview of the ways that digital and social media are being used by adolescents to cope with the death of a peer; (2) identify potential risks of digital and social media use and recommend resources to promote cybersafety; (3) include questions that school-based mental health professionals can use to facilitate conversations about the use and impact of thanatechnology with teens in their care; (4) suggest strategies to incorporate proactive education for students about the use of social media during times of tragedy and considerations regarding digital and social media into school-based social media policies that are implemented following the death of a student; and (5) summarize the pros and cons of the use of the digital and social media resources among teens following a death.

Death Notification via Social Networking Sites, Social Media, and Text Messaging

The National Center for Health Statistics reports that the leading causes of death among individuals between the ages of 13 and 19 include accidents (unintentional injuries), intentional self-harm (suicide), assault (homicide), and malignant neoplasms (Heron, 2015). During an analysis of 550 memorial pages on Facebook, Kern, Forman, and Gil-Egui (2013) found that a majority of the pages were dedicated to people under 25 years of age. Although teens may have advance notice of an impending death due to cancer or another life-threatening illness, the majority of deaths among peers at this age occur suddenly. Therefore, parents or adults in helping roles (e.g., mental health professionals) or authoritative roles (e.g., school officials and teachers) may have no control over how or when a teen is notified.

One mother awoke one morning to learn that a classmate of her son had been killed in a car accident. She spoke with her husband to prepare a strategy to break the news to their two teenagers, only to find that her children had already heard about the accident moments after it happened via social media (Goldschmidt, 2013). “Bad news” can travel very quickly, documented by the fact that 61% of the teens in the “518” survey learned about the car crash within the first hour after it occurred at 10:17 p.m. on a Saturday night.

(p. 98) What types of communication technology or digital and social media are being used to deliver “bad news”? Over the past five years, Twitter usage has risen from 8% of teenagers (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, & Zickuhr, 2010) to 33% (Lenhart, 2015). Therefore, it was not surprising to learn that 31.7% of the “518” survey participants who were in high school at the time of the car crash in my community found out about the crash on Twitter (e.g., #ripchrisanddeanna). Almost 12% learned about the crash through Facebook and a small percentage (3.3%) learned about it through Instagram.

According to Rideout (2012), 68% of teens text every day. A typical teen age 13 or 14 sends an average of 45 text messages a day, and 15- to 17-year-olds send an average of 74 per day (Lenhart, 2015). To what extent is texting being used in relation to events involving death or grief, particularly to notify someone of a death? Although national surveys of texting behavior among teens have not documented the content of these texts, text messaging was a factor in how news and information in the “518 case” was shared: Almost 17% of the teens learned about the crash from a text (Sofka, 2016). The following description from one participant eloquently captures how various types of communication technology and social media were used to determine who was involved in the crash:

I became aware that there was a deadly accident involving Shen students, began texting my friends to make sure they were okay. When Chris and Deanna didn’t respond, I took to Twitter to find out they were at the Siena game, did the math to discover they would have been on their way home at approximately where the accident occurred. I then received a phone call from one of Chris’s teammates, who was at the hospital, confirming his death. (Sofka, 2016)

Some students reported distress created by either the absence of information about the crash (not knowing the identity of the students involved) or misinformation (incorrect information about who had died or survived). The mother of one of the victims described the urgency of reaching her college-aged son to prevent him from learning of his brother’s death through Twitter or Facebook.

Do teens have a preference for personally sharing bad news (e.g., face to face or in a phone conversation) or through the use of thanatechnology? Comments from the “518 case” reflect a range of preferences, confirming that individual reactions to loss vary tremendously:

Preference for face-to-face notification: “I was glad that I received the news from someone in person. It decreased the shock of seeing the news over social media.”

Preference for technology-mediated notification: “As someone who is not always completely comfortable showing strong emotions in front of people, I am okay with receiving the news over text.”

Experts note that sharing bad news on social media and social networking sites can be good (e.g., it’s the least draining or difficult way to get the word out; it gives (p. 99) people freedom to respond—or not—in the way that they are most comfortable, since knowing what to say is a socially challenging situation). These experts also note that it can be bad (posting online may be perceived as trivializing the news; posting may represent trying to show bravado or pretending that someone is not devastated by the news, avoiding the feelings may interfere with grief; Valhouli, 2012). In a study of media use among undergraduates, Choi and Toma (2014) learned that intense negative events were more likely to be shared through face-to-face interactions by this slightly older group of respondents. Rideout (2012) reports “despite their love of new technology and their seemingly constant text messaging, teens’ favorite way to communicate with their friends is still to talk with them face-to-face” (p. 15).

School-based helping professionals can play a key role in educating adolescent social media users about the potential (often unintended) consequences of tweeting or posting information quickly or prematurely. They can identify strategies to educate students about their role in using social media responsibly during times of crisis or tragedy. When dealing with high school students, it is important to “facilitate their own social support system, not run in and take over” (Lieberman, quoted in Blad, 2014), which in many cases will involve social media. Are social and digital media literacy skills already being taught in your school? If so, consider how to help teens gain the communication skills needed to successfully navigate difficult conversations involving the delivery and receipt of bad news; of particular importance are discussions about how to make informed choices regarding the use of social media in the immediate aftermath of a death. If these skills are not being taught, brainstorm options for proactively providing students with opportunities to learn how to responsibly use and leverage their social media resources for support following the death of a classmate. Partnering with health educators to incorporate death education into the existing curriculum is one possible approach. Providing an opportunity for students to express their thoughts and preferences about the death notification will facilitate informed decision making by administrators in the event of a tragedy and may also encourage conversations about this topic with parents. Consider inviting students to work as “cultural brokers,” serving as the “eyes and ears” for adults on social networking and social media sites (Lieberman, as quoted in Blad, 2014), and invite them to educate you about their use of these resources during times of grief.

Online Communities of Bereavement: Emotional, Informational, and Tangible Support

Following one of the most public tragedies involving teens at Columbine High School in April 1999, Linenthal (as quoted in Niebuhr & Wilgoren, 1999) noted that the creation of shrines following tragic deaths might indicate the desire to overcome feelings of powerlessness and experience a sense of unity as a “community of bereavement.” Since teenagers have grown up with technology, adolescents may turn to cyberspace during times of grief, sometimes immediately after learning of a tragedy (Atfield, Chalmers, & Lion, 2006).

(p. 100) Participation on social networking sites and social media appears to serve a variety of purposes for teens in the process of coping with loss, some of which depend upon the relationship that the social media user had with the deceased. Research about the provision of social support during times of grief via social media among teens has produced some unexpected but heartwarming conclusions. Williams and Merten (2009) were surprised by postings from complete strangers but were able to understand them based on research documenting the fact that young people who did not personally know anyone in the tragedy still felt like part of the event (Pfefferbaum et al., 2000). According to a teen in the “518 case” who did not know the victims but participated in social media: “I connected very strongly with the story. The victims were my age and it was sort of a wake-up call that bad things can happen to you even if you’re doing the right thing. I wanted to help in any way that I could.” Another “518” teen stated: “I had a lot of mutual friends that knew the victims and I wanted to support them in their time of upset.” Social media platforms are frequently used to plan or share times and locations for memorial events or coordinate efforts that demonstrate support, such as wearing the favorite colors of the deceased to school (see Goldschmidt, 2013; Wixon, 2014).

DeGroot (2014) coined the term emotional rubberneckers to describe “online voyeurs who visit the FB memorials of strangers or distant acquaintances to read what others write and post their own messages of grief” (p. 79). She noted that “although the term rubbernecking has a negative connotation, emotional rubberneckers are not always seen as negative elements” (p. 82) and appear to have similarities with the deceased in some manner (e.g., identifying with the deceased’s age, cause of death). I would like to propose the term experiential empathy to capture the social media user’s motive for becoming involved due to his or her ability to relate to the other grievers based on a similar loss experience. For example, one “518” respondent who did not know anyone involved in the crash participated in social media because he related strongly to the current circumstances: “I was at a high school when my cousin passed away in an accident.” Are there different social norms for grieving in cyberspace? There may be fewer time limits on grief expressed in virtual spaces; sadly, it may be more socially acceptable to grieve the death of a stranger online than it is to express one’s deep and heartfelt grief for a loved one in the real world, where many people are not comfortable providing support to the bereaved.

Twitter is also used by teens to publicly share their personal reactions to loss or express support for peers who are grieving in a variety of ways. Within 72 hours, teens (including my daughter) from our local high school were sending messages of support from the “518” (using hashtags #518, #518Strong, or #518Family), such as “the best kind of rivalry is one where it goes away when something horrible becomes bigger than the rivalry ever could be.” Friends of the survivors started Twitter campaigns designed to encourage the survivors’ favorite athletes to call them in the hospital (#MissyCallBailey and #TebowCallMatt) that trended nationally. The role of social media became newsworthy when a local columnist documented how reactions to this tragedy were being shared through digital (p. 101) technology (see Barlette, 2012). One of the crash survivors, a prolific Tweeter, openly shared her grief journey on Twitter (see Wind, 2013, and Barlette, 2013). Data from the “518” survey confirms that young adults in our community continue to tweet and post in honor of their friends (“Three years later and things never get easier, miss you both more every day. Keep watching over us”), particularly on a birthday or the anniversary of the death or when the person’s absence is causing sadness or distress. For teens who prefer quick and easy technology, Twitter has become a popular option. Mental health professionals are encouraged to create a Twitter account and proactively become familiar with this microblogging app so they can have informed conversations with their students about the role it has in their lives, particularly during times of grief.

In addition to talking about their grief in online forums (see Sofka, 2014), teens can easily and anonymously access an overwhelming amount of information about health and mental health concerns that would be relevant to coping with loss (Schurgin O’Keefe, Clarke-Pearson, & the Council on Communications and Media, 2011). Although it is beyond the scope of this chapter to review all of the types of online sites available for informational support (see Sofka, 2014, for more detailed discussion), it is important to create resources and opportunities to assist teens (and their parents) in gaining “information literacy” skills to evaluate the reliability of these sources (see Sofka, 2012). Working with your school librarian to develop strategies to help students and their parents become wise consumers of online information is encouraged (e.g., creating hyperlinks to sites that assist in evaluating online information on the school’s webpage; creating handouts or offering workshops in conjunction with the PTA).

Parents may ask for advice about how they can provide assistance to a bereaved teen and/or the deceased’s family. In addition to providing referrals to online information about how to support someone who is grieving (e.g., or—Grief and Loss), it may be appropriate to encourage the PTA in your school to help organize a “casserole brigade” for the student’s family through the use of

Memorialization and Commemoration

Almost immediately after the death of a young adult, social networking sites will contain expressions of grief, and preservation of the deceased teenager’s digital legacy will begin. Sometimes accompanied by photos and/or videos (some of which may be created using digital media tools such as Storify), postings include the sharing of memories, thoughts and feelings in reaction to the death, and/or a description of the individual’s connection or relationship with the deceased. In conjunction with the posting of video footage of her deceased friend, one teen in the “518 case” stated: “It’s just so nice to hear his voice.”

When asked about the origin of the Facebook memorial page in the “518 case” for one of the deceased teenagers, his mother noted that a friend of her son who eventually transferred administrative responsibilities to her created it. Since (p. 102) “death has always presented a delicate problem for Facebook and other social media sites” (Oremus, 2015) for numerous reasons, a new option for proactively expressing one’s wishes regarding the future of a personal Facebook page was rolled out in February 2015. Facebook users can now designate a “legacy contact” who will be given privileges to manage the page following a death. The option to “memorialize” a page is still available in the event that a Facebook user dies without implementing this option. Since unanticipated death is a reality for many families with teenagers, parents should familiarize themselves with these options and be prepared to have conversations with their children when they begin using social media. Mental health professionals should be prepared to facilitate conversations about these options with families dealing with the untimely death of an adolescent (user-friendly resources to aid in these conversations can be found online; see Shavit, 2015).

Continuing Bonds

Williams and Merten (2009) discovered that bereaved teens frequently post comments directly to deceased friends on social networking sites (e.g., “We will miss you” or “I love you”). Communications also included reminiscing with the deceased about shared experiences, providing updates about current events, or sending messages on significant dates (e.g., birthdays, holidays, major life events where the deceased’s presence is missed, or the anniversary of the death). These communications demonstrate a “continuing bond” (Klass, Silverman, & Nickman, 1996) that allows teens to maintain a technology-mediated connection with their friend or loved one through the use of social media.

Social networking sites and social media also seem to provide teens with an opportunity to take care of “unfinished business” with the deceased or express regrets. Private messaging functions on social media provide teens with a non-public forum to say “I’m sorry” in cases where friends were unable to resolve a disagreement prior to the death. Following the sudden death of his friends, one teen in the “518 case” stated: “In some ways I felt like they were going to respond. Because at that point, it was all still a dream. It was almost like my way of saying goodbye.” Williams and Merten (2009) also reported comments from peripheral friends (those on the outer circle of the social network of the deceased) that appear to reflect regret at not having known someone better (e.g., “I wish I would have takin [sic] you up on those ‘wanna hang out’s?”, p. 83).

Why do teens communicate with the deceased via social media? One Facebook user provides a possible answer: “I want you to know that I still care about you … I feel like writing on here is somehow going to enable my message to get to you better … It feels more real. I can see it, I send it, I know that it’s going someplace. And I feel like somewhere, you will read it” (Williams & Merten, 2009, p. 82). Familiarity with examples of social media use from previous research can facilitate conversations with students about ways that other teens are using online resources and social media to cope with loss. The appendix to this chapter contains (p. 103) a tool that can be used by school-based mental health professionals to facilitate a conversation about students’ use of online and social media resources during times of grief and provide an opportunity to evaluate the impact of their use, including any negative experiences with cyberbullying or memorial trolling (to be discussed in a subsequent section).

Survivor Advocacy

According to the Trauma Foundation (2001), some people who survive the traumatic loss of a loved one channel their grief into preventive action. They become “survivor advocates” who work to save others from experiencing a similar loss and trauma through raising awareness and advocating for policy change. For guidance regarding how to facilitate this type of change through the use of social media, readers are encouraged to consult the work of Aaker, Smith, and Adler (2010), who developed a model for enacting change called the “Dragonfly Effect.” Since the small actions of a dragonfly can create big movements, their model is designed to guide “people who, through the passionate pursuit of their goals, hope to make a positive impact disproportionate to their resources” (p. xiii).

In addition to expressing their grief, teenagers are also participating in survivor advocacy through the use of social media. Following the suicide of a high school sophomore, fellow students used Twitter and Facebook to express their grief (Carboneau, 2013). They posted stories and photos to a Facebook page (the Makayla Fund) that continues to raise awareness of teen suicide and the impact of suicide on survivors and to solicit donations for the fund established in her name. Following the December 2012 car crash in my community, when the news media released information that the driver of the vehicle whose car struck the teenagers was allegedly intoxicated, the following request was tweeted: “Can we all make a pledge right now that WE WILL NOT DRINK AND DRIVE? RT [re-tweet] this if you’re willing to MAKE and KEEP that promise.” This message was re-tweeted by 247 people. Each year on the anniversary of the crash, similar messages reemerge as an ongoing way to remember the victims.

Teens may feel the need to “do something” following a loss, and digital technology makes it convenient and seemingly effortless to become involved. School-based mental health professionals can assist bereaved students by educating them about survivor advocacy as a coping strategy and helping them to create and disseminate appropriate messages through the most effective social media outlets.

Cyberbullying, Memorial Trolling, and Facebook Depression

Although there are many positive consequences of digital and social media use among teens, there are also risks to their emotional and physical safety. After surviving the “518 case” car crash that claimed the lives of her boyfriend and another (p. 104) friend, Bailey Wind (2013) eloquently documented her experiences with cyberbullying, some of which occurred as a result of negative reactions to her public expression of grief on social media. The local social media reporter described the harassment that occurred, while also noting that supportive comments defending Wind outnumbered the offensive ones (see Barlette, 2013). School-based mental health professionals should promote responsible “digital citizenship” among teen social media users by partnering with teachers to create learning modules that can be incorporated into relevant aspects of the curriculum (e.g., communication courses, health courses) or by providing information at age-appropriate assemblies.

There are also cases of cyberbullying that have resulted in cyberbullicide, defined by Hinduja and Patchin (2010) as suicide indirectly or directly influenced by experiences with online aggression. A recent case involved Rebecca Ann Sedwick. After being cyberbullied for over a year (e.g., receiving messages saying “Why are you still alive?” “Can u die please?”), Rebecca changed her user name on Kik Messenger (a cellphone app) to “That Dead Girl” and delivered a message to two friends, saying goodbye forever before leaping to her death (Alvarez, 2013). When it comes to being the victim of a cyberbully, words do hurt; for some, words can kill (Edgington, 2011).

A teen’s emotional safety can also be affected by an unsettling phenomenon called “memorial trolling/RIP trolling” in which abusive remarks and insensitive images are posted anonymously on social networking sites or shared through various types of social media. Even though the driver who caused the fatal crash in the “518 case” was speeding and texting at the time of the crash, one teen described “inconsiderate people [who] took it upon themselves to use social media as a platform to accuse Chris [the driver of the vehicle who was killed] of driving drunk, saying it was his fault”; another was upset by someone “saying he [Chris] should have been a better driver.” When asked to describe the most important things that he or she had learned about social media use during times of tragedy, one teen stated: “People will hate on you and what you have to say; there will be drama and fights on social media.” Interviews conducted by Phillips (2011) with memorial trolls revealed that different beliefs about the appropriateness of publicly sharing one’s grief, particularly by individuals who did not personally know the deceased (sometimes called “grief tourists”), appear to be at the heart of this phenomenon. One teen in the “518 case” speculated that these comments may be a remnant of inappropriate behavior by teens who are not respectful of the situation. Almost 40% of teens in the “518” survey reported that they or someone they knew had a negative/unhelpful experience while using social media related to the crash.

Data regarding the incidence of cyberbullying and memorial trolling are limited, but the reality of these inappropriate behaviors is a documented risk of using digital and social media (Goodstein, 2007; Phillips, 2011). When creating a memorial site, it is important to carefully weigh the pros and cons of allowing anyone to post versus applying more restrictive privacy settings. Site administrators need to monitor these sites for egregious postings and handle any situations that arise quickly and appropriately. Raw emotions may also be shared in postings, (p. 105) and although they may not be intended to be offensive, it is possible that they may have a negative impact on some visitors to the site. Adolescents should be reminded to inform a trusted adult if they perceive or experience a threat to their safety as a result of online activities.

In a report compiled for the American Academy of Pediatrics, the authors described a new phenomenon called “Facebook depression,” defined as “depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression” (Schurgin O’Keeffe et al., 2011, p. 802). School-based mental health professionals working with bereaved teens should routinely ask if they have had any negative social media or online experiences (see Question 3b in the appendix to this chapter) or if spending time on social media has had a negative impact on their psychosocial well-being (Jelenchick, Eickhoff, & Moreno, 2013). Sample scripts for use in conversations about cyberbullying are available at Although a comprehensive discussion of cybersafety is beyond the scope of this chapter, helping professionals and parents are encouraged to consult the available resources to facilitate discussions with teens about how to stay safe online (e.g., or to assist with preventive efforts and appropriate responses when cyberbullying occurs (e.g., Kowalski, Limber, & Agatston, 2012; Patchin & Hinduja, 2012). Information about current policies and laws regarding cyberbullying can be found at

Strategies to Facilitate Responsible Digital and Social Media Use Following the Death of a Student

As previously noted, school-based mental health professionals can play a crucial role in the development and implementation of practices that proactively help all stakeholders in a school community to be prepared to respond effectively and responsibly following the death of a student. In addition, it is important to review your school’s social media guidelines and the role of social and digital media in existing crisis prevention, preparedness, and response plans and policies. It has been noted that “the effectiveness of recovery [after a tragedy] depends on the quality of prior planning and preparation, as well as the character and connectedness of the school climate” (Kennedy-Paine, Reeves, & Brock, 2014, p. 40). The National Association for School Psychologists has developed extensive resources to assist with this type of planning. Please see Anderson (2012) if social media guidelines need to be developed. Key questions to ask when reviewing these guidelines include the following:

  • Has someone been identified to coordinate the school’s response through digital and social media and monitor social media usage following the death of a student? (p. 106)

  • Have parents been invited to review the policies regarding the school’s response in this circumstance, particularly the procedures for gaining input from the student’s family about preferred methods of notification and their comfort with the use of social media to provide initial information and updates to members of the school community? (Soliciting input from this important stakeholder group can also pave the way for increased parental participation in previously suggested media literacy efforts.)

Finally, workshops could be offered that facilitate conversations between students and their parents regarding how to handle the student’s social media accounts in the event of a tragedy. Anyone who uses digital and social media creates a “digital legacy” or “digital footprint,” also referred to as “digital dust” (see Shavit, 2016, for an extensive blog on this subject). When a young person begins using social media, he or she is old enough to participate in a conversation with parents about how to carefully balance cybersafety with respecting privacy. This conversation should also discuss the young person’s wishes about what should happen to his or her social media and social networking accounts in the event of a sudden death and create a mechanism for recording usernames and passwords that could be accessed by a parent in an emergency.


Based on comments shared by teens in the “518” survey and findings from the literature, digital and social media can be powerful resources to facilitate the process of coping with grief, but they can also be sources of potential risks and challenges. Table 8.1 summarizes the benefits and risks of digital and social media use during times of tragedy and can be used as a handout to facilitate conversations with adolescents and their parents. In her book about the social lives of networked teens, Boyd (2014) provides helping professionals, researchers, and parents with some useful advice:

Rather than resisting technology or fearing what might happen if youth embrace social media, adults should help youth develop the skills and perspective to productively navigate the complications brought about by living in networked publics. Collaboratively, adults and youth can help create a networked world that we all want to live in (p. 213).

Table 8.1. Benefits and Risks/Challenges of Digital and Social Media Use



Notification of a death

  • Factual information can be sent quickly to multiple recipients, provided that the intended recipients see the information. This can reduce the burden of making numerous phone calls or sending multiple messages.

Links to online information

  • Links to online information can be shared easily.

  • Examples: online obituary, information about funeral services or memorial events, online guestbook, fundraising sites, coordinating a “casserole brigade” at

Memorial (RIP) pages, blogging, and microblogging

  • Provides a 24/7 outlet for the expression of thoughts and feelings by sharing photos and memories

  • A memorial page creates a “social support internetwork”; visitors can express condolences and post messages of support.

  • Postings can educate social media users about grief; comments can validate a person’s experiences.



Notification of a death

  • Some people may prefer to receive bad news in a more personal way (face to face or a phone call) or under different circumstances (in a public vs. private place when receiving the news; being alone vs. with someone to provide support).

  • Inaccurate information can be shared prematurely, particularly in the case of a sudden/accidental death.

  • Once the information is shared publicly, no one can control how and with whom the information is ultimately shared.

Links to online information

  • Anyone can post anything online; digital/social media users must carefully evaluate the reliability of information.

Memorial (RIP) pages, blogging, and microblogging

  • Site administrator needs to monitor postings, remove inappropriate comments, and/or block trolls.

  • Users may experience distress in reaction to photos or content that is unanticipated, upsetting, or unwanted.

  • Users may experience cyberbullying or criticism for publicly sharing their personal experiences.

  • Public postings online may contribute to a loss of privacy in real life.

  • Users may experience a dilemma about the decision to stop blogging/posting (feeling responsible for “followers”).

The book title, It’s Complicated, reflects the challenging process that lies ahead as we continue to understand and document the impact of digital and social media use on adolescents dealing with grief. (p. 107)


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Appendix 8.A Assessing the Use of Thanatechnology/Social Media and Digital Social Support (Social Support “Internetworks”)

Question #1: Have you ever used technology or social media in any way to cope with the death of a friend or family member? ____ No ____ Yes

If so, please list the types of technology/digital and social media resources that you have used in each category:

  1. a) Communication technology (Texting/IM, Skype, Facetime, etc.):

  2. b) Social networking sites (Facebook, etc.):

  3. c) Blogs or microblogs (Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, etc.):

  4. d) Online communities (support groups, interest groups, etc.):

  5. e) Video-based sites (YouTube, etc.—Do/did you watch existing videos and/or create your own?)

  6. f) Music-related sites to access songs or playlists:

  7. g) Online obituary/guestbook:

  8. h) Other?

Question #2: Have you ever learned about the death of someone via technology or social media? ____ No ____ Yes

If yes, please answer questions 2a and 2b:

  1. 2a) Please describe how and when you found out.

  2. 2b) Please share your reaction(s) to the way in which you first received the news.

(p. 111) Possible prompts: Was it helpful to receive the news in this way (advantages)? Were there any disadvantages or any negative consequences as a result of receiving the news this way?

Question #3: How frequently do you use social media and/or technology to deal with your grief? (If it would be helpful, use a 1-to-5 scale with 1 = Never and 5 = All the time or ask how many times/day or how many hours/day are spent on social media).

  1. 3a) What do you think influences your use of these resources? Possible prompts: Access? Comfort with technology? Public or private griever? Familiarity with how these resources can be used to cope with loss? Are there dates/times of the year/events when you use these resources more?

  2. 3b) How has the use of these resources been helpful? A mixed bag? Any negative experiences (cyberbullying/trolling) or negative consequences as a result of using social/digital media?

Question #4: Has the use of digital technology or social media influenced your ability to have face-to-face conversations about your grief? When you use these resources, is it easier or harder to have face-to-face conversations with someone later?

Question #5: Is there anything else that you’d like to teach me about how technology/social media have influenced the way you deal with grief? (p. 112)