Generation Y

Hodge: Social media affects grieving process after Newtown tragedy

I woke up on the morning of Dec. 14 in my hometown of Newtown, Conn. It was 9:15 a.m. and statuses lined my phone’s screen.

My Facebook friends were completing their last final and coming home from college. After a week of studying, stressing and consuming inordinate amounts of coffee in preparation for finals, I was home and ready to relax.

It was almost 10 a.m. when my mother came in.

There was a shooting at an elementary school in town. The rest is known to the world. Twenty children and six adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

My town, previously known as the birthplace of Scrabble and for the huge flag pole on Main Street, is now the location of a massacre worse than the tragedy that took place at Columbine High School in 1999.

Grief consumed my town. It continues to do so.

However, the grieving process has evolved. Today, grief is shared through hashtags, statuses and photos with our friends, followers and the rest of the world on social networks.

Formerly known to generations of individuals as a period of solitude, grief has evolved into a social activity.

For weeks following Newtown’s tragedy, Facebook was a difficult place to log onto because of the constant stream of photos and statuses about those lost in the tragedy.

Facebook notifications lit up my phone as I tried to distract myself with books and DVDs. Attending memorials and vigils were, of course, a major part of the grieving process.

However, invitations to benefit events, comments on statuses I had posted about the tragedy and the desire to “like” any photo or article relating to the event made my cyber world the place in which I found myself expressing my grief.

The immediacy of Facebook and Twitter allows us to suddenly log in or open an application and just like that, we are surrounded by others who are sharing our grief.

Statuses, photos, sharing, tweeting and developing hashtags specific to a tragedy mark our sadness and anger. Sharing a photo on Facebook of a victim of the Newtown tragedy is just as, if not more, powerful than memorial signs lining the side of the road.

For our generation, the process of grieving has forever changed from what it once was because of social networks. We are no longer alone in our grief, which is something that is both comforting and overwhelming.

My town’s grief is the world’s grief. When grief goes viral, it’s hard to look away.

Following the Newtown tragedy, images began to surface on Facebook of children in Iraq holding signs of support for Newtown. Vigils took place outside of the White House. Children lit candles in Tirana, Albania.

A moment of silence was held on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The flag in front of Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University stood at half-staff in the days following the tragedy. All of this was illuminated through Facebook’s sharing capacities and Twitter’s hashtags.

While there is something incredibly compelling and beautiful about the love that has poured into my hometown, from paper snowflakes to letters to teddy bears, I also wonder, have we somehow undermined the grieving process by changing its intimacy and bringing it to a global scale?

Despite the shared photos, statuses and hashtags, the real meaning of this tragedy is left with the teachers, students and larger community of Newtown, who have to figure out how to move on in the face of unspeakable evil.

In the end, social networks are only avenues to express grief, not process it.

Anna Hodge is a freshman magazine journalism major. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at ahodge@syr.edu and followed on Twitter at @annabhodge.

  • http://www.facebook.com/janice.levine Janice Levine Igoe

    Anna: I’m a high school friend of your mother’s and I must tell you, your writing and your insights are moving and beautiful. While I join the rest of the world in wanting to respect the dignity and privacy of those whose immediate pain is so personal and raw, I appreciate your willingness to openly share the experience of you and your peers in today’s world of social media. It’s very generous of you.

    -Jan Levine

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