Social media and communal grief

As the sad news breaks that another of our much loved celebrities has died, this time the wonderful Ronnie ‘four candles’ Corbett, my social feeds are filled RIP tweets, stories and of course the ubiquitous – ‘Its goodnight from him’ joke. It’s got me thinking. Have there been more ‘big name’ deaths this year or does the constant drip of information mean that we are just more aware, (whether we like it or not), of things like this happening?

A tidal wave of grief…

Does the tidal wave of posts and tweets flooding social media create a social pressure to share the sad <insert crying emoji> news of a celebrities’ passing with little sincerity behind it. Or, does social media provide a platform for people to come together on a global scale, and find some comfort in sharing their grief in a way that wasn’t possible just a few years ago?

This year has seen the sad and shocking deaths of David Bowie, Alan Rickman and most recently Paul Daniels and of course Ronnie Corbett. But, these are not JUST any famous people. They are institutions, a comedy legend, an international music icon, a highly respected actor and an acclaimed magician (and Wizbit) and as such have millions of die-hard (pardon the Alan Rickman pun) fans, who in many cases have a very real love for them. Particularly David Bowe as was witnessed with the many vigils that took place across the globe that arguably would never have been organised so quickly had it not been for social media. So, when someone with this kind of influence dies it’s ONLY natural that the news will be rapidly shared with social media providing an instant way of getting a message to a huge amount of people. But, what does this public grieving for a famous stranger say about us – and I’m including myself here…

For those that have lost someone close it could be hard to take this ‘stranger grief’ seriously. How can you sum up this depth of feeling in just 140 characters? And, this seemingly artificial mourning is easily scorned by those who just don’t buy into it. But for many the death of a celebrity is the loss of a significant figure in their lives and that has a very personal impact on them. Short of attending their funeral which will never happen, coming together as a community to remember and honour their legacy is the only way to pay their respects and, find some comfort with others that understand what they are going through. Life is, after all, about shared experiences.

Dr David Giles, an expert in media influence on human behavior comments that in the event of a celebrity death hashtags are created, RIPs fill Twitter feeds and people who have probably never even met the deceased feel a need to comment. This is what Dr Giles calls ‘parasocial interaction’:  feeling like you know a celebrity as well as others in your social network, but probably not realising it. This is why, when you may not have given a passing thought to someone like Paul Daniels for years their death feels almost like a distant relation has passed away and we feel compelled to share this – highlighting how strong these parasocial relationships are. And, it really does doesn’t it. Ronnie Corbett has seemingly always been about in his golf jumpers, in a big chair telling a funny story. In fact in a previous job I had the pleasure of looking after him for an evening. He was hosting an awards ceremony that we were putting on and yes, he was VERY small and very funny. But, we are all ageing so it should come as no surprise that he’s passed away and yet, it does.

Grief is a very personal process, it doesn’t matter if it’s a celebrity or a close member of your family that has passed away  it will affect you deeply. So, however you find the most comfort is the best way for you to deal with it. That could be taking part in an online discussion group or a candle lit vigil with other fans, there is no right way or wrong way, whatever gets you through as they say….





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