Online memorials are spaces created to remember, celebrate, or commemorate those who have died. Although memorials may be as simple as a one-page HTML webpage document giving the name of the deceased and a few words of tribute, many are more developed and allow users to add their own words and photos.
Online memorials started appearing in the late 1990s but were very unusual. Many were websites created in response to the death of an individual who was in the public eye such as for Rachel Corrie, rather than for general members of the public. In 1997, Carla Sofka recognized the increasing use of the Internet for grief expression at a time where few predicted its emergence as a new form of memorialisation. Online memorials for public events, such as the one created by the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, can help communities to collectively produce a shared and authentic response to the event.
Anyone can now easily create a memorial in cyberspace and it is becoming increasingly popular to do so.
For many who have lost loved ones, visiting a churchyard or a crematorium is not always possible. They might live too far away, might dread crying in public or find the journey too difficult. These increasingly popular sites allow people to be able to remember and commemorate together, wherever they are and whenever they wish.
They can also appeal to many different motivations and needs. They can be private memorial sites, or a way of sharing memories with friends and family. They can even be used to memoralise a loved one to the general public. By definition all online memorials can be visited at any time day or night and they also appeal to the environmental movement by being the greenest memorial available.
Helping with grieving
An online memorial is now widely accepted as an integral part of the grieving process outlined in the stages of grief model, and the underlying basis for this is the way in which it can bring those affected by a death closer together by encouraging communication and expression. It is normally one of the tools for bereaved people to communicate with each other and to act as a bridge with others.
An additional benefit is that it can prolong the grieving communication process. It is very easy to all feel compelled to 'stop talking about it' once the funeral has taken place when successful grieving normally requires a much longer period of active remembering. An online memorial where friends and family can all tell their stories and express their feelings of loss over the medium term can help everyone manage their grief effectively together.
Facebook offers the possibility to transform the profile of a deceased user into a memorial. Family members or friends can report an account to be memorialized upon presentation of proof of death. When the account is memorialized, Facebook removes sensitive information such as contact information and status updates, but still enables friends and family to leave posts on the profile wall in remembrance. However, only confirmed friends can see the memorialized profile or locate it in search.
Fundraising in memory
An online memorial can also be used as an effective and appropriate way of collecting In Memoriam donations to charity, often as an alternative to sending funeral flowers, or in order to do something positive in response to a death. This might be to help support their work or to fund medical research, or just as a way of thanking an organisation such as a hospice that may have assisted.
- Sofka, C.J. (1997). "Social support "Internetworks," caskets for sale, and more: Thanatology and the information superhighway". Death Studies 21 (6): 553–574. doi:10.1080/074811897201778.
- Hartelius, E. Johanna (2010). ""LEAVE A MESSAGE OF HOPE OR TRIBUTE": Digital memorializing as public deliberation". Argumentation & Advocacy 47 (2): 67.
- John Herrman (15 March 2010). "What Happens (Online) When We Die: Facebook". Gizmodo. Retrieved 17 April 2010.
- Max Kelly (26 October 2009). "Memories of Friends Departed Endure on Facebook". Facebook Blog. Retrieved 19 April 2010.