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Online social networking beyond the grave

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.

myspace.comThis 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.

http://www.mydeathspace.comMyDeathSpace.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.

http://www.myspace.com/project_27Armand (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, anything dangerous, acting … bartending, anything extremely dangerous'. His site, now a shrine to his brief but action filled life, includes a video from
YouTube.com, another online networking site. It is based on video sharing.

http://www.youtube.comStrangely, almost voyeuristically, after his death I can still read all about Armand, his age, his interests, that he was straight and in a relationship. His heroes included his dad, 'he always supported my dreams', and his mom for 'helping getting me started in life and giving me a foundation'.

MyDeathSpace.com also led me to the website of Kaitlyn Druckreier who died after a lifetime of heart disease at the age of 18 on 3 February this year.

Growing up in New Milford, Connecticut, her MySpace site -
http://myspace.com/jtcarter_05  - reflects the life of a very normal adolescent girl, highlighting her musical and other tastes, and endless detail about her life. But, the saddest aspect is the long list of comments posted by her boyfriend Anthony in the months since her death. He very publicly continues to post tributes, declaring his long-lasting love, and tries to come to grief with her death.

http://www.myspace.com/sovieAs a predominantly American site, MyDeathSpace includes some deaths of military personnel: two airmen - Lance Corporal Nicholas Sovie, who was 20 (http://www.myspace.com/sovie) and Senior Airman Alecia Good, who was 23(http://www.myspace.com/aleciasogood) - and eight marines. Although both site-owners were in the military, there is little in common between the sites. 

Sites reveal greater or lesser social networks. Only 20 MySpace friends are listed on Alecia’s site, and there have been very few postings since her sudden death. Had she really developed an online social network? What does this say about her? Had she just joined MySpace?

http://www.myspace.com/aleciasogoodWith all the obituary postings, there is a strong sense of the presence of the deceased. Among the personal information provided by the site owners is their religion. However, the postings all talk to the deceased as if they are still present in some heavenly form. Apart from the declarations of love, many speak of knowing that the deceased has 'gone to a better place' and that they long for that time of reunion when death comes to them as well.

Social networking beyond the grave is alive and well online!



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