When Somebody Dies in Your Social Networking Circle

We’d have never imagined the scope of our online communications when the Internet was first discovered for its networking potential. It soon became easy to chat with millions of people across the globe — and with forums, emails, and instant messages, this occurred simultaneously and with ease. Multitasking made it easier than a simple telephone or conference call. Forums and networks of friends enabled people to voice their opinions under a faceless name, though one that is often remembered more easily by a wider audience than ever thought possible.

The arm of social networking reaches farther than we’d have ever dreamed of a decade ago.

It’s a wonderful thing in its living being, and thriving social communities are indications that people flock to these social interactions despite how impersonal they may seem.

MySpace and Facebook User TombstoneIt’s no wonder that when someone dies in your social circle, it’s more than just hearing about another name or face in the news. It becomes real.

A few weeks ago, Anandtech member Rick Smith, aka acemcmac, died. He was 21. Rick was hit by a drunk driver. While not a close friend of mine, we’ve interacted before as acquaintances on the forum — despite having hundreds of thousands of members, the Anandtech forum itself really does boast a close-knit community. When I heard this news, I actually felt something within. I learned about the member who I only knew as “acemcmac.” He was Richard Smith, no longer just a screenname and an avatar. I’m not sure why this particular incident grabbed me, but maybe it’s because the social media effect is exactly that: it grabs you.

With online media, our social circles go beyond our colleagues, our family, our friends from school, our peers near and far. The reach of online communities brings us more friends than we’d have imagined. It’s no wonder people really sit back and think about individuals after they pass on — identifying the individual, describing the incidents surrounding the death, letting people get to know the deceased. Touching and sad. The feelings evoked are beyond comprehension. The solidarity after such incidents and the prayers expressed to the families and friends of the victims shows that people care beyond the impersonal nature of social networks — even though the individual was but a “friend I met online.”

It may seem strange and distant. “You never really knew him, so how can you feel this way?” Still, it’s a revelation for me. Even though I’m an emotive being, this is something different. With online networking, the closeness to me and the individuals I communicate with online is not so far off anymore. “Long distance” is a strange way to put it when we’re chatting with each other on a near-regular basis. I communicate with you like you communicate with me. In a social network, we are using our computers or handheld devices to talk to each other and do so frequently.

We are all communicating. We are all being affected by one another.

It’s also no surprise, then, that there are avenues dedicated to identifying and exploring the lives of victims of networks who have passed on. MyDeathSpace (which is not working at the present) also had a similar impact on me. I remember spending a considerable amount of time upon discovering the site several months ago reading about victims after learning of the the personalities behind their names on their MySpace pages.

With social media literally opening new doors to interaction than never imagined possible, we hear a lot of happy news. Our online friends become parents, they get married, they get job promotions, and above all, they share among their online friends to get encouragement.

Less often but more frightening is when they die. More people we know will die because of our reach into the online world. This is our reality, as scary as it may seem. Our networks open us to news of joy, and unfortunately, sadness too.

6 Comments

  • Helene Vadsten says:

    What happened to mydeathspace.com?
    I was in the middle of a university paper with the mydeathspace site as topic, when it disappeared. What’s happening? Is it coming back? Help!!

  • I have no idea, really, but there’s a copy of it in Google’s cache and you can probably find some more information (though without pictures) on web.archive.org (e.g. http://web.archive.org/web/20060516145724/http://www.mydeathspace.com/ )

  • Helene, if it helps, I just found this article, which states:

    “The Web site has been down since Nov. 20, which creator Mike Patterson of San Francisco attributes to heavy traffic. He said the site should be back up in a few days after it gets more bandwidth from its host site.”

    http://www.examiner.com/a-423478~Memories_live_on_at_online_death_archive.html

    I’m not sure how long “a few days” really is, but hopefully you can finish your paper soon.

  • John Cena says:

    It is very painful, when somebody dies in your social network. But we need to be aware about these incidents.
    ———————————
    John
    Wide Circles

  • Kimball Page says:

    I just felt the need to share what happened to a Facebook friend of mine. I ride with a couple motorcycle groups here in LA, and I remember chatting with Stefan once or twice only maybe 2-3 months ago. So I added him as a friend on Facebook. I remember he was funny, quirky, with an accent you couldn’t figure out where he was from. And so I was following him on Facebook. Then about three weeks ago I got this strange message from a lady saying “URGENT!! do you know anything about my brother they say he is dead!” It was his sister in Romania. We in the group knew nothing about Stefan, we still don’t know what happened, other than that it was a motorcycle accident. This was a huge shock for the group, and everyone in the group reached out to Stefan’s sister through Facebook, added her as a friend, sent pictures of Stefan, and tried to give her some closure. His family is coming over from Romania to take his remains back for burial in Romania. I still cry, thinking about him. He was so young. But I would have known nothing were it not for Facebook. His sister simply contacted me because I was one of his friends on Facebook. She needed to know more about his life, since she was in Romania and he was here in Los Angeles.

  • Kimball, that’s so sad. :( Thank you for sharing your story with us.

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