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Online social networking beyond the grave

  • 12 June 2006

Interacting with other humans ultimately exposes us all to major life events - births and inevitably death. Since social networking has moved online, death has inevitably followed. Probably the most famous online networking site is MySpace.com – particularly since Rupert Murdoch purchased it for $US580 million a year ago. This site claims to have over 73 million registered users – mostly young and impressionable. While MySpace has many security features to deter commercial exploitation of its young users who frequently bare their souls to electronic passers by, it has not been able to deal with death. This inability to remove the sites of the dead has received worldwide publicity since Deborah Lee Walker, a 23-year-old from Georgia in the United States, died in a car accident in February of this year. Her father logged onto her MySpace page to alert her friends a few hours after the accident, only to discover a number of tributes already online. Since then, the flow of online tributes to mostly young people cut down in the prime of their life has become a focal point for some cyber communities. MyDeathSpace.com is a much newer site that has created a directory of deceased MySpace members. This American site effectively publishes obituaries of MySpace members, who have become more famous in death than life. A quick look at the site reveals a long list of mostly young males who have mainly experienced violent and unexpected deaths. Car crashes predominate, as well as murders - some very gruesome. There are also gunshots, alcohol related deaths, suicides and drug overdoses – perhaps deaths that reflect the ages of the victims. Some of the obituaries are graphic in their detail, and lift slabs of text from other online news sources. Armand (AJ) Marin, a stuntsman in the movie industry, died of accidental strangulation on a movie set in May 2006. While in a stunt hanging scene, he had a sudden asthma attack and was unable to free himself, despite the noose having a safety knot. Like all MySpace sites, his site - http://www.myspace.com/project_27 - lists 138 online MySpace friends who have permission to post comments on his site. By late May, nearly 200 had been posted since his death. These comments are an outpouring of grief, many from people who never physically met Armand. Others talk about their only encounter in person with him. Armand’s site reveals his interests and attitude to life. Among these it includes 'stuntwork,