Facebook, Ritual and Community – Memorialising in Social Media
Social networking websites and applications have become the defining factor of online social interaction in the 2010s. Their popularity and addictiveness are based on their ability to convey all aspects of human emotions, from love to hate, from envy to happiness, from humour to sadness, from life to death. However, all social networking sites, especially Facebook (abbreviated FB), have been facing the fact that some of their users have been dying and other people want to use the websites to reminisce about and mourn their loved ones. In a study on virtual memorials conducted already more than a decade ago, communication theorists de Vries and Rutherford argued that online memorials are ‘the postmodern opportunity for ritual and remembrance’ (2004, 2). More recent studies have suggested that the internet ‘brings death back into everyday life’ (Walter et al. 2011, 295), since death and mourning cultures have undergone significant changes during the 20th century (Ariès1981 , 1974; Pentikäinen 1990; Walter 1994).
In this article, I will examine how commemoration and bereavement rituals (i.e. mourning rituals) are practiced on the Facebook social networking website, and how they build and maintain existential or spontaneous communitas, the transient personal experience of togetherness, at a time of loss (Turner 1995 , 130–133). By mourning rituals, I am referring to the symbolised manner of communicating bereavement, care, love and affection at a time of loss. They are practices that function as socially approved symbols of emotions (Walter 1994, 77), which are intended to keep the community, friends and family of the deceased together at the time of loss (Bell 1992; Sumiala 2010; see also Durkheim 1980  and van Gennep (1960 ). For example, the Finnish phrase ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ essentially means ‘I take part in your loss’, which symbolically refers to a way of taking on some of the grief and sharing the loss together with the bereaved. Flower wreaths, candles and other mementos are also familiar ways of expressing grief, especially at memorials — both online and offline. Mourning rituals in Web environments, however, are mediated by digital multimedia: images, video and text.