Facebook Seeks to Stop Asking Users to Wish Dead Friends Happy Birthday

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While Facebook has emerged as a remarkable tool to preserve cherished memories of departed friends and family, it has also served up these and other troubling — and often unexpected — notifications.

On Tuesday, Facebook announced several changes aimed at easing users’ grief. The social media company is using artificial intelligence “to minimize experiences that might be painful,” Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said in a statement posted to the company’s website.

How to Grieve for Online Friends You Had Never Met in Person

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Our ideas about which relationships are “real” have not caught up with the ways we actually live and connect, said Megan Devine, a Portland-based psychotherapist and author of “It’s OK That You’re Not OK.” She’s adamant that this deep sense of loss isn’t limited to in-person friendships.

One of the difficulties Ms. Pahr faced after Amy’s death was a lack of empathy from others. “Even well-meaning and compassionate people don’t place the same weight on your grief,” she noted, the way they would if you lost a friend you knew in person.

…This can often lead people to experience what psychologists call “disenfranchised grief”…


In Praise of Social Media Mourning


Illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by Michael Kelly/Flickr CC

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By now you know the social media celebrity-death protocol. As the news spreads there’s a rolling wave of “oh no”s and “RIP”s—many of them omitting the name of the deceased, to mark the advent of a topic so urgent that everyone can be assumed to be participating. Then come the tributes: personal memories, 140-character career summations, expressions of sadness.

And then come the complaints. These tributes, we are told, are “performative.” To post a response to the death of a famous stranger is to “make it about you.”

These thoughts don’t add up to an obituary, but there were plenty of obituaries. Social media filled in the space around the obituaries. These posts map the millions of points at which Prince and his music intersected with the lives of the people who heard it…

The bereaved, of course, can make their own decisions about what to say or not say. The rest of us are paying our respects and assembling the material from which artistic legacies are formed. We do that by talking about the work, and about the feelings it produced in us over all these decades, and about times when we danced, and about how finite life is and how much pleasure there still is in it, despite everything.

It’s not enough to tweet your grief. When terror strikes, do something useful

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The urge to solidarity is a very powerful one. It’s why humans are such a successful species. But at some point the genuine if emotional gesture can teeter over into something else altogether. It becomes another version of exhibitionism. It stops being motivated by an outward-looking desire to demonstrate collective resistance and slides into the self-absorbed projection of the individual into whatever event of the day is shocking or enthralling.

Since that is largely what Twitter and other social media is for, maybe it’s self-defeating to rue the rise of hashtag engagement. There is something beguiling for those of us fortunate enough to be a safe distance from tragedy or disaster in sending out virtuous signals of sympathy and right-thinkingness from the warmth and comfort of kitchen or office. It’s not so far from the emotion that causes queues to build up on the opposite carriageway to some episode of motorway carnage. It’s a kind of vicarious, cost-free involvement. But that is all it is.

Now that it is so easy to do, public sympathy is becoming a corrupted currency. Politicians, terrified of being behind the social media curve, are always at it. Memorialising individual soldiers killed in conflict as happened throughout the last decade may be justifiable (a Blair innovation in the aftermath of Iraq): they were there at the politicians’ behest. But nowadays any disaster that is reported, regardless of how lacking in any but the most personal consequences – terrible though they must be for the families concerned – is treated as a matter for public expressions of sympathy by government and opposition MPs alike.