Grieving Online Feels Weird
But maybe it's just me.
It seems like there has been a lot to grieve the last couple of
years weeks. My feeds and timelines have been filled with posts from people who are at different stages of the grieving process. I see three general categories:
(1) Some people post angry content about whatever it is they’re grieving. They post about the terrible injustices they’ve witnessed, sharing their anger about the perpetrator(s) of the injustice. They rage against the person they believe is responsible for the cause of their grief.
(2) Others post frustrated content about different people or systems they wish could have prevented whatever it is they’re grieving. They’re sort of mad, but they would say they are as frustrated with the situation and circumstances as they are with any perpetrator or villain.
(3) Yet others post sad content, openly grieving whatever the terrible news of the day/week is. These people were perhaps angry or frustrated in the recent past, but their anger has given way to more of a sadness and a discouragement.
Let me be clear: I don’t think posting content like this online is inherently wrong. I used to do it myself a good bit. But these days, I just can’t bring myself to do it anymore.
Grieving online feels weird to me. Am I alone here? I may be alone here.
Take, for example, the horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas at the end of May. It made me sad. I felt sick to my stomach thinking about it. It was very hard for me to think about as someone with zero connection to it whatsoever. Just the pinnacle of evil on full display. If anything is worth public grieving on social media, it is something like this, right?
Dozens of people with whom I am connected on social media posted content grieving the tragedy, their content generally falling into one of the above categories: anger, frustration, or sadness.
I saw anger toward the gunman. I saw anger toward law enforcement. I saw frustration toward the school system. I saw frustration toward Congress. I saw sadness about the loss of life. I saw sadness about what it means for others’ children and the future of public schooling.
But I simply couldn’t bring myself to post a single thing about it—and I felt the whole range of emotions I describe above. I was angry. I was frustrated. I was sad.
What is it that makes us comfortable grieving online? Again, I’m not saying it’s wrong, but it feels increasingly weird to me.
Is it just nice to grieve publicly and receive affirmation (through likes, comments, etc.) that others are grieving in the same way? As I was working through my various feelings of grief and saw people grieving publicly on social media, I wondered what posting about the tragedy in Uvalde would do for me.
I’m pretty sure the main reason I didn’t post anything is that it felt like performative grief. Again, this is me. I’m not saying that anyone who posts grief is performing for likes or other forms of digital attention. I just couldn’t find a reason to post that didn’t leave me feeling like I was using a tragedy for my own attention farming. I had thoughts like:
“What would my posted grief do for anyone?”
“Wouldn’t it be serving me more than doing anything actually productive or helpful?”
“What would tweeting about this horrible tragedy accomplish other than telling other people I’m paying attention and I want attention?”
“Why do people care about my sadness about this event? Isn’t it normal and human to be sad about this? Why do I need to post about it?”
I’m sure plenty of people took an event like the tragedy in Uvalde, TX as an opportunity to accrue more likes and follows for themselves, which is disgusting and predatory and awful. But, like I said, I’m sure most people posting their grief weren’t doing this.
And I wondered if I was alone in this feeling or if there are more of you out there.
Why do we feel the need to grieve publicly on the internet? And is it good that we do it? Or is it unhealthy?
I don’t have any answers here, but I wanted to say that I think grieving online, publicly is weird.
Not necessarily bad. Just…weird.
Happy to hear any thoughts in the comments, or you can just reply to this email if you received it.
Since being mostly off of socials (Twitter is the exception) for about a year or so now, I find most of the social media world “weird”, and I had to spend several months de programming myself from thinking in social media speak or wondering what followers would think about something if I posted it. What a strange phenomenon.
Also - I really liked your phrase “attention farming.”
I agree 100% with your post. Very well said.