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October 30, 2009

Death and the Social Media

Yesterday's post about Facebook's "memorializing" the profiles of those users who have died brought to mind something that's gone through my mind off and on since I started joining online communities many years ago, since I joined the Amazon reviewers community in 2001.

You've formed all of these friendships online, maybe even a romantic relationship that you haven't told anybody about yet.  You've joined Facebook (though many of those people are probably friends with you in "real" life, not all of them are!), you've joined MySpace, you've joined Twitter.  You've become a reviewer on Epinions and formed friendships with some of the reviewers on there.  Or even just things like a forum where you discuss the latest CSI episode or Star Trek books.  You've formed some friendships there too.  It doesn't matter where it is, you've very likely become at least acquaintances with at least one person there.

Then, suddenly, you go silent.  No more posts.  No more reviews.  No more tweets.  No more status updates.

Yes, something's happened, and it's happened quickly.  An accident, sudden illness (most people who have lingering illnesses will have already mentioned it to these people) or some other tragedy happens and you die.

To all of these people, who you only know online, you have just disappeared.  People do that all the time.  They get bored with writing reviews, for example.  Or they get bored with the constant arguing on some of the various forums.  So they just disappear.  But if you're friends with people on there, you'll generally let them know that you're leaving, even if you don't make a public announcement.  So the fact that even they don't know why you've suddenly gone silent can be a little worrying.

Sometimes, people have a good enough relationship with somebody that the person's spouse or other family member will tell that person, who will then spread the word (that's how I heard about at least one death of somebody on Epinions).  But what if that isn't the case?

I've often wondered whether I should set up a list of areas where I would like people to be notified if anything ever happens to me.  Or maybe, rather than a list, a couple people from each area who can be contacted and trusted to spread the word.  I could keep it up to date if things ever change (such as my friend leaving whatever site in question) and make sure my wife knows where it is.  I don't know.  I've never really thought the whole thing through, so I'm definitely open to suggestions.

What do you think about all this?  In this age of social media explosion, how would you keep your online friends informed of things like that?  What if you go into the hospital for something long term, so you don't have access to a computer and don't get a chance to tell everyone?  Has anybody else even thought about this, or am I alone in this?

I know this is two "death" posts in a row.  I'll try to make the next one more light-hearted.


  1. Hmm, happy comfortable thoughts. Not.

    I don't really have a huge online presence outside of my blog and I have a yahoo group. Everyone I'm facebook friends with I also know in real life so if something happened to me, word would get to them. Now as for my blog and yahoo group... Pat has access to both. He is set up as a moderator in both. So, should something happen to me he would post in both places so that anyone who wanted or needed to know, would.

    Now if something ever happened to Pat I think he has it lined up with a friend where and what to post to let people know. He has a huge online presence thanks to all his games.

  2. Yeah, I'm always there with the comfort. :)

    It's not something I think about often. It just passes through my mind occasionally.

    I appreciate the comment, though!


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