Death and Social Media: LiveTweeting a Funeral?

Recently, Steve Buttry posed a question on twitter and in his blog: “Should a journalist livetweet a funeral? If so how?” The article discusses two particular funerals that were live tweeted and further discussed in corresponding blogs. The full article by Buttry can be read here, but I will summarize his discussion and comments. Funerals were livetweeted and reported on two individuals in particular.

Matthew Ingram’s tweeting and response from funeral, via GigaOm

In both cases, social media coverage, including the livetweet of the funeral was seen as beneficial by a number of individuals either related to or close with the deceased. It allowed family and friends who were unable to attend a chance to participate. It was also a fitting form of commemoration for the second example, being the deceased was extremely active on twitter. The negative backlash came from the broader audience seeing the tweets, not family or friends. The main argument was it is inappropriate and disrespectful.

Buttry ends by discussing potential areas where it would be disrespectful, and how to appropriately tweet from a funeral. Bascially, it comes down to respecting the deceased, their family, and the mourning community. Some suggestions include: asking the family for permission, put everything into context, don’t tweet during the service or in areas of active mourning, and explain why you are doing it.

I came to this article from a slightly different perspective than most, and as readers of a mortuary archaeology blog you are likely approaching it from one more similar to my own. I tweet, blog and facebook about death every single day. Social media is one of my primary mediums for discussing, sharing, and learning about the dead. We openly discuss the movement of Abraham Lincoln’s coffin and USA funeral tour. We commemorate the death dates of famous individuals. There were livetweets of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that killed hundreds of people.

When is it appropriate to tweet about funerals? Would you tweet a funeral?

Can social media be used as a form of modern commemoration, and if so which forms? Why is there a backlash against tweeting as commemoration?

Why is it appropriate to tweet about historic funerals but not a modern one? When can we discuss death?

I will follow up this post with a fuller discussion of my own opinion and thoughts on the subject, but I really want to hear from you first!

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9 responses to “Death and Social Media: LiveTweeting a Funeral?

  1. Social media is here to stay. Here we simply have the process of society catching up. I’m sure there will be backlash from the usual quarters, but the use of social media during funerals is an inevitable development.

  2. This is disgraceful and an outrageous intrusion on a family’s grief. Funerals should be left to respectable media.

  3. I think it depends how it is done. As Roland said, social media is here to stay. I think it is naive to presume that in the case of the funerals of public figures, comments will not be made on sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Even in more private circumstances, some sort of commemorative remark hoping that a loved one rest in peace is hardly disrespectful.

    However, to provide commentary on the funeral itself is trickier. Private funerals especially, people don’t expect to regard as a journalistic event, which is what intensive coverage on social media essentially turns them in to. There needs to be respect for the grieving family and friends, and I would agree that getting their permission would be a good first step.

    I think the one doing the coverage would also need to seriously consider why they were doing it. Whose benefit is it for? Are there people who can’t get, perhaps because they live abroad? Given the sensitivity of the circumstances, I’m not sure ‘because I can’ is a good enough reason. There needs to be something more than that.

  4. I think that if one asks permission from the family, and according to the relationship one has to them, it could be good. Mostly tho, I think that a journalist has a higher standard to meet and shouldn’t.

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