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So What's New in Digital Death?

The end of 2014 is a great excuse to look back and see what's new in Death. Digital Death. 


  • Intel acquires PasswordBox, which acquired Legacy Locker in November 2013. The previous acquisitions were: 
    • In July 2012 LifeEnsured was acquired by SecureSafe, formerly known as Data Inherit. 
    • In April 2012 SecureSafe acquired entrustet as well. 
  • The Knesset in Israel holds a discussion regarding Digital Estate.
    It is the first time the Knesset addresses this issue, and the first time a draft of a bill was presented here in this regard. 


"Removal of certain imagery

In order to respect the wishes of loved ones, Twitter will remove imagery of deceased individuals in certain circumstances. Immediate family members and other authorized individuals may request the removal of images or video of deceased individuals, from when critical injury occurs to the moments before or after death, by sending an e-mail to When reviewing such media removal requests, Twitter considers public interest factors such as the newsworthiness of the content and may not be able to honor every request".



  • Webpagefx come up with a new Digital Death info-graphics regarding Facebook and death.
    Till then, the international Digital Death community I'm part of has been using this animated video created at the beginning of 2012 by the Australian company 'Life Insurance Finder'. 


  • Michael Jackson died in 2009 and appears in a "live" performance on stage in Las Vegas on May 2014. Well, his hologram does.
    Prior to this, we've encountered Tupac who died in 1996 and performed in Coachella Festival in 2012, and Kurt Cobain who died in 1994 and performed in Guitar Hero in 2009.

I wonder if in the near future we shall see some more "live" performances by dead performers, and I also wonder if artists and celebrities will begin to leave instructions behind regarding their willingness - or lack of it - to keep on performing after their death. 


  • The first academic symposium entirely dedicated to Digital Death takes place, titled: Death Online Research SymposiumTill then, we've had several un-conferences.
    You're welcome to read my summary of it here: Day 1, Day 2.
  • During this symposium, the idea if using Augmented Reality with gravestones was presented for the first time. You can see a demo in this short video I made. 
    So far, gravestones were used in combination with QR bar-codes since 2008 (at least), and in 2010 an idea won a designing competition of using Bluetooth with gravestones, but to the best of my knowledge, that was never put into practice.
    It'll be interesting to see if Augmented Reality will actually be used in this regard. 

  • The Law Society of England and Wales publishes a press release urging people to Leave a digital legacy.
    Till then, the official blog of the USA government published a post in 2012 encouraging people to Write a Social Media Will


  • John Berlin uploads a short video to YouTube, asking Facebook to let him see the 'Look Back' video of his deceased son, Jessie. His video goes viral and in a day Facebook gets in touch with him, allows him to see Jessie's video, and later that month change their policy and allow everyone to request seeing the 'Look Back' video of a loved one who passed away. John uploads a second video, in which he thanks everyone who helped make this happenn.    

(Please note: approaching Facebook with a request to see a 'Look Back' video of a loved one who passed away means his or her profile will automatically be turned into a memorialized profile. Once this is done it can't be undone, so please be sure you want this to happen before making such a request. Of course, if the relevant profile has already been memorialized, this caution is irrelevant). 

If you think of other news which should have made it into this summary, please drop me a line via email: or via the Facebook page of the blog. 


The Results of the Survey I Held are now Available in English

In 2013 I held a survey which was the first of its kind in Israel, dealing with the digital legacy we and our loved ones will leave behind. 

I'm sorry it took me so long to translate the results and upload it in English, but here it is: 
I'm happy and excited to share them with you, in a professional manner, after the wonderful Dr. ‏‏Shimon Peretz‏ went over it all: a PDF you can view, print, download etc. via this link, with all the results from this survey presented in it. 

Dr. Roey Tzezana and I co-wrote a paper based on some of the results of this survey, which was published in Finland: Online Legacies: Online Service Providers and the Public – a Clear Gap (Thanatos magazine), but in this PDF all the results can be viewed in English for the first time

I also wish to thank Yuval Idan for her proofreading and language check. 

In addition to the closed-ended questions, some questions offered free-response text options. 
So many comments and responses were left I won't aspire to translate it, but here are some general themes I came across: 

"These are tough questions", "The user is responsible", "The ISP is responsible", "Depends on the circumstances", "Depends on how old the deceased child was when he/she died", "Depends on which data we're talking about", "The heirs should prove they were close to the deceased during his/her life prior to being granted access", "Depends on which of the relatives we're talking about", "Family members should be aware of the consequences", "It should be according to law", "I have a solution!", "Depends on who, when and how", "This is a problem", "This is not a problem", "Some cases are extraordinary and should be treated as such", "The dead have a right to their privacy", "Family members will have to face the consequences", "Depends on how old the deceased minor was: a 17 years old is not the same as a 12 years old", "The age of the deceased child is irrelevant", "Depends on the circumstances of the death", "Minors don't know enough to make up their minds", "Parents should be granted access, period", "Minors too have a right for posthumous privacy". 

What I can add from my point of view is: 

  1. Most of the people who answered this survey were presented with Digital Death issues for the first time. They didn't think about it before - and then, thinking about it for the first time, they suddenly realized they have strong opinions in this matter, which was interesting for me to note. 
  2. I was surprised by the distinction made between browsing history and Internet search history on one side, and emails, cellphones data and social network accounts on the other side. I was not aware people regarded the first two as more private and personal than then later three. 


Thank You For This Vote of Confidence :)

I've been a member of the Digital Death Day group and emailing list since July 2012. 

This email list, as well as some other infrastructure for hosting Digital Death Day events, is provided by Identity Commons

Identity Commons is a community of groups working on developing the identity and social layer of the web. The organization is loosely connected sharing a common purpose and principles. Our group of people interested in Digital Death is known as the "Digital Death Working Group" (Quoting Evan Caroll here).  

Since its inception, Evan Carroll has served as Steward and represented our working group to Identity Commons' Stewards Council. 

Due to personal commitments, Evan decided to step down from this role and was kind enough to suggest that I take it upon myself and become the new Steward. 

I very much appreciate the kind words and helpful suggestions our group members have shown me in their replies to this suggestion. 
Thank you Evan and everybody for this vote of confidence and thank you Kaliya Hamlin for creating Digital Death Day to begin with. I'm curious to see where we'll be headed towards next. 

Print Screen - Email From Evan Caroll

Print Screen - Email From Holly Isdale

Print Screen - Email From Komal Joshi

Print Screen - Email From Jed Brubaker

Print Screen - Email From Selina Ellis Gray

Print Screen - Email From Anna Haverinen

Print Screen - Email From Stacey Pitsillides


My Summary of the 'Death Online Research Symposium', April 2014, Durham, UK - Day 2

My summary of day 1 - April 9th can be found here

Day 2 - April 10th

  • Paper Session 3:  Remembering Loved Ones OnlineSession chair: Korina Giaxoglou
    • The story God is weaving us into”: narrativizing grief, faith, and infant loss in U.S. women’s blog communities: Deborah Whitehead, USA
    • "A place to grieve: online social networks as resources for coping with the loss of a child": Ylva Hård af Segerstad and Dick Kasperowski, Sweden
    • "Death across media: comparing practices of grief and commemoration on children’s graves and online memorial sites": Dorthe Refslund Christensen and Kjetil Sandvik, Denmark
    • "Sadness online. Dealing with the loss of a loved one online. Motives, interactional structures and their gratifications": Katrin Döveling and Katrin Wasgien, Germany
    • "Online suicide memorialisation: exploring the role of the internet in suicide grief": Jo Bell, David Kennedy, Louis Bailey, UK
I have to admit this session was a bit "heavy" for me and "pushed my buttons". 

Deborah Whitehead:

Here are some quotes from her abstract:

"“The Story God is Weaving us into”: Narrativizing Grief, Faith and Infant Loss in U.S. women’s Blogs Communities

Pregnancy and infant loss, grief, and memorialization in online religious communities: Many of the most popular "mommy blogs" (authored by mothers for a readership primarily composed of mothers and deal with content related to parenting and domesticity) deal with pregnancy and infant loss as a central subject. Blogging becomes a way of working through a private grieving process in a public way. In evangelical Christian mommy blogs, a subset of the larger “mommy blog” genre, the approach to a child’s death is distinctive. Just as evangelical funerals routinely incorporate altar calls as a way of providing a larger sense of meaning and purpose for a loved one’s death, so too do these blogs, particularly as they acquire larger audiences, become for their authors a means of sharing the gospel and saving souls.  

First, I show how individual stories of pregnancy and infant loss can, through social media, create new supportive communities where bereaved mothers, both authors and readers, can share in a collective process of grieving and memorializing their children in religious terms.
Second, I argue that a (re)narrativization of death and loss takes place via the blog as authors seek to situate a traumatic personal loss, via text and image, within the context of a larger story, and hence to make it meaningful in some way. The blogger seeks to tell the story of a child’s life cut too short, but in the process of doing so via social media, the story becomes “my story” (the author’s story too), or part of the larger story of their family, or even “our story” inclusive of the blog community of readers, “the story God is weaving us into,” post by post, day by day, as one blogger put it; but it also becomes part of God’s larger salvation story for humanity. In the process of this ongoing storytelling, I demonstrate how these women are using social media not only to create new spaces for grieving but also new ways to navigate child loss and memorialization via the creation of ongoing religious narratives".  

Ylva Hård af Segerstad and Dick Kasperowski

Here are some quotes from their abstract:

"A Place to Grieve: Online Social Networks as Resources for Coping with the Loss of a Child

The death of a child is said to be the most disruptive of all possible losses individuals may experience in life (Schwab, 1990). Parental grief has been recognized as the most intense and overwhelming of all forms of grief (Freud,1917; Mitchell et al., 2012; Parkes, 1988; Rando, 1985, 1986; Rees 1997). Research has indicated that bereaved parents’ grief process is unique and may be life-long (Klass et al., 1996; Sormanti & August 1997). 

Theoretical perspectives on parental grief have undergone a paradigm shift over the last century (Davies, 2004). Traditional understandings advocated breaking bonds with the deceased child as a means of resolving grief, pathologizing what new understandings recognize as important in coping with the loss of a child, i.e. to continue bonds and holding-on. The latter often counteracts with social norms and expectations by society. The death of a child is an extremely uncomfortable subject in most western societies and often avoided in conversation. This avoidance limits the exploration of experiences and possibilities for coping with grief that might be shared in a culture (Brotherson & Soderquist, 2002). Consequently, there are not many places or situations where grieving parents may talk about their dead children, their experiences and feelings in trying to cope with their loss. With the introduction of social media this has changed.

This paper presents results from a unique empirical study of bereaved parents’ use of a closed peer support group on Facebook. 
Results show that the technological affordances of online social networks offer means for bereaved parents to continue bonds with their deceased children and may act as vital resources for coping with grief in ways that has not been available previously. Closed communities online offer a move from individual pathologized holding-on to emerging social norms for holding-on, supporting the particular and life-long needs of grieving parents in unprecedented ways".

Dorthe Refslund Christensen and Kjetil Sandvik

Here are some quotes from their abstract:

"Death Across Media: Comparing Practices of Grief and Commemoration on Children’s Graves and Online Memorial Sites

A dead child – be it a stillborn or dead at a very early age – renders the bereaved (mainly the parents) in an existential void: all preparational efforts leading up to the life as parents to a (new) child are rendered meaningless and all hopes and dreams for the future as a family are scattered and destroyed. In this situation, the process of grief becomes a way of reinstalling meaning by establishing an ongoing relationship to the dead child, by which the child - who in life was barely there - gains existence, and through which the identity as parents (however to a dead child) is established, communicated and socially acknowledged.
In this paper, we investigate how this relation-building and relation-maintaining practices are articulated through the use of objects as communicational media on children’s graves and the resembling uses of various communicational features on online memorial sites. In a comparative analysis of selected children’s graves at Nordre Kirkegård (Aarhus, DK) and selected memory profiles at the Danish online memorial site, we demonstrate how the loss of a child initiates processes which is not about ‘letting go and moving on’ but rather ‘keeping hold and moving’ (Walters) and how these are articulated through both offline and online communicational practices. For instance, the use of drawings, photos, poems, clippings of hair, imprints of hands and feet, colors, music, toys, ornaments etc to document and honor the presence of the dead child and the use of candles -  be it physical or digital candles - to be lit by the parents and others showing appreciation and care for the dead child are examples of this cross mediatic communicational practices showing the ways in which relations to the dead child are established and maintained. Through this analysis, we intend to point to and discuss some of the matrices of the online memorial practices".

Katrin Döveling and Katrin Wasgien

Here are some quotes from their abstract:

"Sadness Online. Dealing with the Loss of a Loved One Online. Motives, Interactional Structures and Their Gratifications

In the age of rising impact of virtual communication, the amount of information as well as emotional content in the social web has dramatically risen. This leads to the question which role virtual interaction plays in dealing with the basic human emotion of sadness (cf. Ekman 1981), as previous research (authors, 2013) demonstrates that sadness is increasingly shared online in social network sites. 

The leading research questions of our research thus are:
  1. Why do the bereaved turn to online platforms and thus share their most private feelings with an anonymous public? 
  2. Does the internet lead to a new form of emotion management? 
  3. Does anonymous, shared suffering lead to an intensification of emotions or through “online emotional openness, personal exploration, and interpersonal support“, (Preece & Ghozati, 2001, S. 241) to emotional relief? 
  4. If so, which are these potential online gratifications (Palmgreen & Rayburn, 1982)?
After having laid out the theoretical basis on the density of emotional interactions for the extensive study that developed throughout the course of one year, the focus was set onto the analysis of "Social Sharing of Emotions“ (Rimé et al., 1991) and “Emotion Management” (author 2012).  
Thus, three distinctive German sadness platforms (“TrauerVerlustForum”, “YoungWings” and “MeineTrauer”) were examined in a two-step content analysis, which generated insight into the basic mechanisms of online grief of adolescents as well as adults". 

Jo Bell, David Kennedy and Louis Bailey

Here are some quotes from their abstract:

"Online Suicide Memorialisation: Exploring the role of the Internet in Suicide Grief

The last 10 years has seen a rise in internet sites commemorating those lost to  suicide. Some of these sites are collective while others are created and maintained by friends and families of individuals. Whether collective or individual, these sites describe the life of the deceased and the afterlife of relatives, parents, friends, or siblings who have been termed the ‘forgotten bereaved’ (Dyregrov and Dyregrov,  2005). It is clear that such sites have implications for what many commentators refer to as the continuing social presence of the dead and as continuing bonds.

This paper presents data from ongoing research which has focused on two aspects  of suicide memorial websites.
First, we explore the extent to which such sites help us understand how the internet is enabling new ways of grieving and is, in effect, making new cultural scripts.
Second, although there is a large body of writing on the management of trauma there is little evidence-based research. The paper draws on face-to-face interviews with owners of suicide memorial sites and explores how the establishment and maintenance of such a site is an important part of the therapeutic process and how, for grieving relatives, making or contributing to such sites provides ways of managing trauma in the aftermath of a death by suicide".

I have to admit that it was difficult for me to follow this talk, which I'm sure reflects poorly only on me and not in the speaker - but - to be perfectly honest, I learned via this talk that I do not glean a lot from a one hour talk which is accompanied only by one, single slide. I'm used to visual aids as "hooks" to what I'm listening to, and I'm afraid their lack made it difficult for me to follow this talk. We were however handed a single sheet of paper as a reference, which I'm adding here for your benefit. 

  • Paper Session 4-1: Digital Legacy and InheritanceSession chair: Laurie Faro
    • "Digital legacy – what happens to our digital assets when we die?": Astrid Waagstein, Denmark
    • "Digital dead remains: exploring material and in-material legacies": Selina Ellis Gray and Maria Alejandra Lujan Escalante, UK
    • "Facebook user profiles after death: digital inheritance or property of the network?": Damien McCallig, Ireland
This was a fascinating session, which is my solace for not being able to attend the other session which took place at the same time.

Astrid Waagstein

When Astrid finished her talk I wanted to get up on my feet and clap, or cheer, or better yet - hug her. Apart form obvious differences in style etc., I felt like I could have given Astrid's talk - and she could have given one of mine. Her perception of Digital Death issues is quite similar to mine and it was very gratifying for me to meet her. 
In the following pictures she is showing an official booklet in Danish which is distributed to people in hospitals, hospices etc., with points worth thinking about and taking care of while still alive - including digital legacy, which I was very impressed by. 

Here are some quotes from her abstract:

"Digital Legacy – What Happens to Our Digital Assets when We Die?

What happens to our digital assets such as photos, playlists, digitised letters, diaries and blogs when we die? Will our relatives be able to gain access to these digital heirlooms? And do we want them to?

This article presents the results of a study conducted in June 2013 examining the awareness of and sentiments on digital legacy. It also suggests a research design building on the study in question, and aiming towards the development of a solution that addresses legal, practical, technical and ethical challenges, and which handles and secures digital legacy appropriate.
Through interviews with death aware respondents – mainly hospice employees – respondents were (implicitly) asked if they could relate to their digital legacy and if so, how. They were also asked to what degree their digital legacy was important to them, and what artefacts they regarded as valuable and potential heirlooms.
The study showed that the respondents were not at all aware of having a digital legacy. Despite their death awareness and having experienced problems with inaccessible digital assets regarding family or friends they had not considered the same problem regarding their own legacy. However, the actions and statements of the interviewees make it clear that the respondents wish to preserve and safe-keep their digital effects as they have great emotional, practical and historical value to them - effects such as digital documents (personal letters, poetry, songs), digital photos, texts, blogs, digital music collections, e-Boks content, access to online banking and hardware, and the hardware and passwords itself.
Furthermore a revisit at the hospice after six months unveiled that the hospice employees had begun discussing digital legacy and the passing of access codes with patients".

Selina Ellis Gray and Maria Alejandra Lujan Escalante

Here are some quotes from their abstract:

"Digital Dead Remains: Exploring Material and In-material Legacies

Our material possessions continue on after our deaths. As remnants of lives lived and fractious identities, remains range from the places where the deceased once called home, the things they used to wear on their bodies and the ‘treasures’ which they held in high esteem.  The dead leave us with these material legacies that appear ingrained with deep residues which become profoundly evocative to the memories of the living (Gibson, 2008; Davis, 2007). 

In contemporary society, the dead are increasingly leaving behind a massive amount of ‘in-material’ remains, as data embedded within the material of the technological infrastructure and its network of hardware, software, interfaces and lines of code.  While this suggests the material qualities of our legacies are undergoing a radical transformation, moving from traditional earthly possessions towards an inclusion of in-material data, embodied residues are seemingly managing to exist on.

The objective of this work is to discuss this changing nature of matter and meaning in the context of life and death, specifically in relation to digital memory and the notion of the memento. We aim to introducing a dynamic and ‘intra-active’ perspective which draws on the interdisciplinary work of New Materialist philosophy and in particular, Karen Barad.  

We will outline how both material and in-material legacies have particular features, capacities and emergent practices, through presenting empirical data that illustrates how these can [dis]able social personas and [re]configure identities after death. We do this through recounting empirical observations made within a range of different online platforms. From ‘user generated’ through to intelligent forms of digital afterlife software as seen by ‘Death Switch’, ‘DeadSocial’, ‘if i die’, ‘Perpetu’ and ‘LivesOn’. This work should prompt reflect upon how both material and in-material remains work to mediate and [re]negotiate relationships of loss within the sensitive context of bereavement".

Damien McCallig

I have been following Damien's (excellent) work for a while now so it was a pleasure to finally meet him in person. 

You can read some of his work in the following links: 
Here are some quotes from his abstract:

"Facebook User Profiles after Death: Digital Inheritance or Property of the Network?

Facebook is currently the most popular social networking service. It hosts more than 1.26 billion user profiles with almost 750 million daily active users.  Many of the inactive user profiles relate to deceased account holders. Dealing with the digital remains of these deceased users creates significant policy and procedural difficulties for service providers, such as Facebook. The digital remains issue also raises interesting questions regarding what it is a decedent leaves behind, in digital media when they die, and whether a public policy response is warranted to deal with the issue.  

This paper questions whether a deceased user’s profile should be classified as a form of digital inheritance, to be distributed as part of a decedent’s estate, or should the profiles of the dead remain the property of the network. It further asks, what useful impact, if any, can legal or public policy interventions have on the regulation of the digital remains issue. In answering these questions the factors which have shaped Facebook’s evolving deceased user policies are identified and examined.  The early impact of internal factors, in particular, pressure from other users of the social network, who were bound together by technical and contractual rules, set many of the parameters for later changes to Facebook’s deceased user policy. External factors driven by the surviving families of the deceased, the media, privacy laws and regulators, the estate planning industry, court cases and legislators eventually became more impactful on Facebook’s policy decisions and these are also analysed.  

This analysis also draws out gaps in Facebook’s current policies and helps test the impact of proposed legislative and public policy changes. The proposed legislation, emerging in the United States, in relation to fiduciary access to a decedent’s digital assets, may not have too great an impact on service providers, such as Facebook, and may need to be broadened in application and scope.  Ultimately, this paper looks to the future and makes recommendations which will be useful for social network service providers, including Facebook, and legislators with respect to digital inheritance and future heritage access to the digital remains of deceased persons". 

  • Paper Session 4-2:  Social Media Practices of MourningSession chair: Stine Gotved
    • "“I didn’t know her, but…” : affected strangers’ mourning practices on Facebook R.I.P pages": Lisbeth Klastrup, Denmark
    • "Entextualizing moments of mourning on Facebook: narrative performances of grief in computer-mediated communication": Korina Giaxoglou, UK
    • "Socially shared mourning: construction and consumption of collective memory": Anu Harju, Finland

Since sessions 4-1 and 4-2 took place at the same time and I attended 4-1, I'm afraid all I can offer about this session is quotes from abstracts: 

Lisbeth Klastrup

"”I Didn’t know her, but...”: Affected Strangers’ Mourning Practices on Facebook R.I.P. Pages

“Death [in the media] is not a taboo... But rather a narrative force and image system used to inform, shock and entertain” (Gibson 2007, 416)

While sociologists of death consistently argue, that in modern western society the death of those close to us has become an individual and private matter, death researchers have also pointed out that the death of others or the death of celebrities are regularly made into public stories by the news media (see f.i. Field and Walter 2003, Gibson 2007).
This paper will present and discuss findings from an in-depth study of “R.I.P” pages on Facebook. It takes its point of departure in the fact that Facebook R.I.P. pages seem to attract many people who do and did not know the person who is commemorated on the pages in question. The author has previously referred to this practice as “R.I.P’ing” and “affective mourning”. This paper will further explore why these “strangers” post on RIP-pages, and what they do when they are there? In the cases, which will be discussed in this paper, the people who are remembered on these pages, have a “history of death” which have circulated in the press, and furthermore the same press will often explicitly have pointed to the R.I.P page as part of their coverage of the story. The study therefore includes unpacking and tracking the relation between news media and the Facebook page in question. They are all pages which have gotten around 5000 likes or more, and therefore contain several posts by alledged “strangers”. An earlier pilot study by the author of “R.I.P’ing” practices (sample: 600 posts) revealed that three most common forms of posts to these pages were conventional formal expressions of mourning (like writing “R.I.P), expressions of sympathy with the family of the bereaved, and expressions of the affect and emotions of the poster. This study will seek to confirm whether this is a recurrent pattern, and try to outline a tentative typology of “mourning strangers”". 

Korina Giaxoglou

"Entextualizing Moments of Mourning on Facebook: Narrative Performances of Grief in Computer-mediated Communication

Digital media offer new domains for people to articulate aspects of their everyday self and share resources, views, attitudes, and emotions by variously combining the affordances and constraints of different media.

(see Barton and Lee 2013, Georgakopoulou 2006, Jones and Hafner 2012). The use of digital environments as ‘new’ sites for the temporal, spatial and social expansion of death and mourning has been increasingly receiving scholarly attention addressing the issues that emanate from such ‘new’ uses (Brubaker and Hayes 2011, Brubaker, Hayes and Dourish, 2012). And yet, there is much scope for developing a systematic and interdisciplinary approach to the investigation of social practices and meanings emerging (or re-emerging) in digital spaces for mourning. The present paper seeks to offer a sociolinguistic perspective to the study of mourning and grieving online with the aim to foreground links between linguistic-discursive practices in digital environments and broader aspects of social life. 

The focus of the paper lies on practices of sharing, understood as ‘the entextualization of significant moments for a networked audience’ (Androutsopoulos, 2013) with an emphasis on practices of moments of mourning on Facebook pages and group sites. It is argued that genres of mourning and performances of grief help transform the unspeakable into reportable and shareable moments embedded in multimodal texts. Furthermore, such genres and performances offer a unique window to the enactment and negotiation of contemporary Western regimes of individualized  emotion (cf. Wilce, 2009). 

Analysing Facebook logs as narratives in computer-mediated interaction, the paper explores the way informal spaces for mourning encourage the weaving of grief into everyday life through different types of narrative activity, lending coherence and affective power to individual articulations of grief".

Anu Harju

"Socially Shared Mourning: Construction and Consumption of Collective Memory

The death of Steve Jobs in 2011 shocked the fan community and hurled them into creative action. Not only did the fans flood Apple stores around the world, digital commemorative artefacts soon emerged online. Social media sites rendered personal acts of remembrance into public property, into memorial sites. This paper looks at the collective construction of the memory of Jobs as an object of fandom in these sites after his death and how this memory is subsequently consumed, and what instrumental role(s) technological devices and digital artefacts have in these practices. Drawing on Eliade’s (1959) account of sociology of religion and his notions of the duality of modes of existence regarding time and space, namely the sacred and the profane modes, this paper seeks to examine the spiritual aspects of the fans’ practices of mourning in the wider context of consumer culture theory (Belk et al., 1989; Bonsu and Belk 2003; Belk and Tumbat, 2005; Muñiz et al., 2005). 

Data is collected from social media site YouTube, where remembrance videos dedicated to the memory of Steve Jobs abound. One fan-produced commemorative video, called ‘In dedication – Thank you, Steve’ is chosen for more careful analysis. While the video is also examined, the user comments posted on the video site, both by fans and anti-fans, as well as the ensuing conversations, are analysed in more detail. 

The study shows that the fans consumption has spiritual elements, of experiencing the sacred. Just as devices may act as threshold into sacred space, so may digital commemorative artefacts on social media sites. As death marks a separation, revisiting these sites offer continuation, access to symbolic eternity. In the process of bereavement, the object of fandom becomes increasingly an object of consumption and undergoes a signification process whereby new meanings are constructed, contested and negotiated. 

Social practices of mourning are changing: social media is transforming what used to be private into a public, networked, and social practice. New forms of spirituality are emerging and experienced in the everyday. Digitality offers eternal existence, even if symbolic, and allows continued consumption of what once was". 

  • Paper Session 5: Digital Memorials and MemoriesSession chair:  Tim Hutchings
    • "The Digital Monument to the Jewish Community of the Netherlands and the Jewish Monument Community: ritual commemorative practices and meaning": Laurie M.C. Faro, The Netherlands
    • "Digital eternities: post-mortem digital identities and new memorial uses of the web from a gender perspective": Fanny Georges, Hélène Bourdeloie and Lucien Castex, France
    • "The netlore of the infinite: death (and beyond) in the new digital memory ecology": Amanda Lagerkvist, Sweden
As the end of the day and the symposium were approaching, kudos to the participants of the last session who managed to keep us engaged.

Laurie M.C. Faro

As I'm both Jewish and from a family with Hollocaust background (my Hungarian paternal grandparents survived the camps, to make some long stories short), I was fascinated by this unique project which I was unaware of till that point.

Here are some quotes from her abstract:

"The Digital Monument to the Jewish Community of the Netherlands and the Jewish Monument Community: Ritual Commemorative Practices and Meaning

In April 2005, the Digital Monument to the Jewish Community in the Netherlands went on line. This monument is an Internet monument dedicated to preserving the memory of more than 100,000 men, women and children, Dutch Jewish victims of the Shoah. The digital monument is at first sight a page on the internet and the home page is intended as monument: a screen with thousands of little colored bars which are grouped together in blocks. Each block represents a family and each little bar within a block represents a victim. Clicking on a bar will direct you to the separate pages of all victims.

Image via website

Main objective is to reconstruct the picture of the Jewish community in the Netherlands at the eve of their destruction by means of ‘returning’ to each individual victim his or her identity.

As of September 2010, the Jewish Monument Community website has been linked to the website of the Digital Monument. The Community is an interactive website where so called ‘users’ may contribute and exchange information about the persons remembered in the monument. More than 6,000 user profiles have been registered at the Community website.

Print screen of website

With this monument and accompanying community, a new approach to commemoration is introduced while new concepts in design, memorial space and communication are applied.

In 1998 Geser feared that commemoration practices at a virtual memorial would be limited to ‘behavior extremely short in time and extremely unrelated to any other social involvements. It becomes a small ‘intermezzo’, during surfing activities […]’.  The results of my research show that, although practices are mostly limited in time, they do not have the character of an ‘intermezzo’ in between other internet activities. Within all groups of informants practices evoke deeply felt emotions raised by the enormous amount of names, the ages and the stories behind the victims.
My research also shows that the proposed characteristics of ‘co – production’ of memory and ‘voice’ of web – based memorializing by Foot et al, have been defined as distinguishing features of the Digital Monument and Community. By sharing their own personal remembrances, stories, pictures or other digitalized objects which they consider relevant on the Community, users co – produce the remembrance of the Shoah.

Each individual may decide what they consider important to ‘voice’ at the community and as a result the memorial refrains from taking sides and imposing closure upon the audience’s interpretation of the memory of the Shoah.

In line with Casey and Savage (who launched the term ‘therapeutic’ monument) there seems to be a ‘healing’ effect in expressing oneself in a public, in this case a virtual, environment.

In conclusion: the Digital Monument and Community s are valuable contributions to commemoration practices of the Shoah, a place 24/7 accessible for commemoration from all over the world where each one can contribute at one’s own place and time. In this respect they form a ‘living monument’, not closed but open, and which will continue to grow in future".

Fanny Georges, Hélène Bourdeloie and Lucien Castex

Here are some quotes from their abstract:

"Digital Eternities: Post-mortem Digital Identities and New Memorial Uses of the Web From a Gender Perspective

As a privileged site for individual identity building, the web and its uses have reorganized social relationships. The lasting of digital data, after the death of its users, raise nowadays several questions. What become of the identity data of web users after their death? Do they care about them when they are still alive? How do relatives deal with these data? How do major actors of the web, such as Facebook and Google, manage them? As any other digital and funeral practices, those post mortem digital practices are gendered. This project wants to shed a light on the gender dimension of these practices. How does the gender of the dead person and of those who pay tribute to him/her structure the memorial uses and the construction of post mortem identities? Such questions seem crucial when taking into account the multiplication of digital programs dedicated to memorial practices and the dramatic importance of social networks in relation to the aging of web users.

For a few years, international research has explored the social issues raised by profiles of dead users, as well as the changes in the mourning practices on the web, but has paid little attention to gender issues. In France, only a few research projects have been conducted on the thematic. Even more, if works articulate digital practices and death or question the gender dimension of mourning, none develop a specific gender perspective on digital practices related to death". 

Amanda Lagerkvist

You can read some of Amanda's work in the following link: 

Here are some quotes from her abstract:

"The Netlore of the Infinite: Death (and Beyond) in the New Digital Memory Ecology

Our late modern digital age raises a number of important concerns as regards the fundamentals of our existence. Through shifts in the digital memory ecology that affect our sense of time, space, community and identity, our life world seems to be assuming a new, and quite vulnerable form (Bauman 2008). Yet, while our age celebrates instantaneity, and makes compulsions of hyper connectivity and networked individualism co-exist with technological obsolescence, the result is more than the all-pervasive tension between remembering and forgetting (Hoskins 2013, Garde Hansen et al 2009). This paper argues, in addition, that in our era of absolute presence, the infinite has simultaneously made an important return through digital memory practices that both defer and de-sequester death (author 2013). This is visible in the ubiquitous meaning making practices of personal digital archiving through the urges for self-perpetuation; it is evident at sites where the self may be saved for posterity (www.Itomb); it is discernible in the practices of directly speaking to the dead on digital memorials (Roberts 2004, Walter et. al 2011/12), and in the tendency among some users to regard the internet itself as a manifestation of eternity, ‘heaven’ and the sacred (Jacobi 2012). The paper shows that by approaching digital memory cultures existentially – inspired by the debate on media and religion and its emphasis on new uncharted forms of existential meaning making in our media age (Hoover & Lundby 1997; Woodhead & Heelas 2001; Lövheim 2008, Hutchings 2012; Moncur forthcoming) – we may move beyond the binary between technological determinism and technological affordances. At this juncture, we may examine what may be termed a ‘netlore’ of the infinite, and gain insights into how people navigate and create meaning, through establishing a sense existential security, in the digital memory ecology.

The End 

All in all, it was a very rewarding experience, and I thank all the people who have made this possible: from the organizers to the participants to the people who made this trip possible for me via crowdfunding. 

 Astrid Waagstein and me
Picture by Deborah Whitehead

Deborah Whitehead and me
Picture by Astrid Waagstein


The next Death Online Research Symposium is scheduled for August 2015 and will take place in London: stay tuned. 

All pictures taken by me unless otherwise specified. 


Real People, Real Stories

The best way to clarify and emphasize how much digital death is relevant to all of us is by sharing real stories of real people, which is what I'll be doing here. I'll keep updating this post, if you came across a story, please send it to me: or through the Facebook page
As the origin of some of these stories in Israeli, the sources are in Hebrew. Sorry for the inconvenience this may cause in your reading experience. 


  • July: I got a whatsapp message about a person recovering from a difficult surgery and can't remember his own passwords. If there was a higher awareness to these things, before going into surgery we would make sure that in case of an emergency, someone would be able to access our online accounts. And sometimes that someone would be us, ourselves. 

  • June: Idan Shacham posted a request on Facebook, asking to help locate a stolen smartphone. The phone belonged to a good friend of Bar Shavit who was killed on March 2nd 2015. On it were "Pictures, conversations, memories, recordings... the memories can't be recreated...".
    This is a case of theft, but the feelings of the people who loved the deceased and cherished the lost memories are the same. 


  • SeptemberThe parents of 19 years old Jake Anderson, who froze to death on a river bank under circumstances which remain uncertain, started collecting signatures in a petition calling the state of Minnesota (where they live) for a change of its legislation. After Jake passed away, they were unable to login or get access to their son’s digital legacy, which they hoped would shed light on the circumstances of his death. An example to the pain and difficulty parents encounter when dealing with the digital aspects of death: “Nobody should have to face the roadblocks that we've had in just trying to see this stuffsaid his mother, Kristi Anderson.
  • AugustMyriam Safari’s mobile phone was stolen. It contained pictures and videos of her son Mooli, who passed away 3 weeks earlier, at the age of 5, and as she said: “Had memories that have no substitute”. An example to the great importance devices and their digital content have, following the death of a loved person, especially when not backed up.
Facebook screenshot
  • AugustLooking for a way to unlock a mobile phone of a soldier that was skilled in battle, without damaging its content. An example of the great significance digital devices have and their content for the people who love us.
Facebook screenshot
  • AugustSean Mondstein was killed in “Tzuk Eitan”, leaving behind personal notes in his mobile phone. An example of the enormous value of the digital content people leave behind
Newspaper article 
  • JulyLilah, sister of the soldier Liad Lavi who was killed in “Tzuk Eitan”, shares a video that the family members found after his death. An example of the great significance digital devices that we leave behind have and their content for the people who love us: she uses the word “Treasure”, when referring to the data the family got out of his portable hard drive.
Facebook screenshot
  • MarchApple refuses to grant Josh and Patrick, sons of Anthea Grant, who died of cancer, access to the ipad of their deceased mother. An example of the gap between what grieving people expect and the actual posthumous policies.
  • FebruaryJohn Berlin approaches Facebook in a moving video that turns viral, asking to see his deceased son, Jesse', "Look Back" video. Facebook responds to the request and later change their Look Back videos policy regarding deceased users. An example of how much what we leave behind is meaningful to our loved ones.

Please note: if you contact Facebook with a request regarding a 'Look Back' video of a loved one who passed away, as far as Facebook are concerned, this equals a request to memoralize the account even if it isn't what you had in mind. My colleague Damien Mc'Calig refers to it as a "trap" set by Facebook. I highly recommend you fully grasp the outcome of memoralizing an account before you take this step. 
  • January: In Israel, Ilana, a bereaved mother updates that she has managed to log in into her deceased daughter's Facebook account, Noy, and how much joy this brings her.
    An example of how dear our online legacy is to the people who love us. She chose the words “happiness” and “joy” to describe her feelings in this matter.
Facebook screenshot
  • JanuaryAmanda’s Twitter account, who passed away in April 2013, rose to the public’s awareness thanks to a video clip created of her tweets.
    An example of how significant can the digital footprints we leave behind be, even for strangers.
    September 2014 update: Amanda may not have been real :\.
    Another update: the video is no longer available online. I'm uploading it here from my own archive: 


  • December: A social worker sends me an email with a request for help after the Facebook profile of a murdered man has vanished.
    An example for the fact that there is a need for training professionals also in the digital aspects related to a person’s death today, and to increase their awareness of the subject.
Email screenshot
  • November: The brother of an old acquaintance passed away, and he sends me the following private Facebook message.
    An example of the difficulties we deal with today, related to death in the digital era, which we did not have to deal with in the past.
Facebook screenshot, personal message
  • SeptemberRoni Lahav published on Facebook a request for help locating the iPad that was stolen from her house, which contained videos of her deceased husband with their child.
    An example for the importance of the digital assets we leave behind to the people who love us.
Facebook screenshot
  • AugustOmri Weil published on Facebook a screenshot of a Facebook profile, where the mother and sisters of Sagit Avital, who passed away, were asking her Facebook friends to stop congratulating her for her Birthday after her death, since it only adds to their pain. Sagit’s profile has been closed since. An example of the difficulties family members and friends experience after their loved one passes away, due to her/his presence, which still exists, online.
Facebook screenshot
  • JulyTzach Cohen, brother of Noy, who suddenly passed away, published in Facebook a request to help locating his sister’s mobile phone, which disappeared during the mourning days. Later on it was found that the phone was stolen and its entire content has been deleted.
    An example of the pain a family experience when they have no access to their loved one’s last photos: He uses the phrase “hold what is left from her”.
Facebook screenshot
  • FebruaryMatthew Beland passed away in the hospital, surrounded by his loving family. They knew he was dying and took care of everything, except for his digital legacy, simply because they did not think about it. His wife, Ashley, interviewed for a TV report in the US. An example of the gap between the family’s expectations and the actual policies of the internet providing companies, and an example of the importance of the digital legacy of the deceased person for her/his loved ones.

  • FebruaryRicky and Dian, parents of 15 years old Eric Rash who committed suicide and left no letter behind, approach Facebook and Google with request for access to his accounts and get refused, although Eric was a minor. The parents launch a process that brings to change of legislation in the state of Virginia with regards to access to the digital legacy of a minor.


  • JuneHelen and Jay, parents of 21 years old Benjamin (Ben) Stassen who committed suicide and left no letter behind, approach Facebook and Google with a request to access his accounts and get refused.
    An example of the difficulties that arise and for the complexity of the subject: 
    The parents’ request for access for what their son left behind is understood, and so is the online websites and platforms who think it is their task to take care of their client’s privacy, in his life as well as after he passed away. As far as the parents are concerned, if he would leave a diary in his drawer, they would not need permission from any outer factor in order to open it.
  • April: Louise Palmer, a grieving mother expresses the pain Facebook inflicted on her when it memorialized her late daughter's account - against the explicit wishes of the daughter, 19 years old Becky, who died of a brain tumor. Mail online article, BBC video article

  • MarchReadwrite published an article about the story of communities’ manager at, who received contradictory requests from the sister and daughter of a deceased community member, regarding his account. An example of the difficulties and dilemmas that arise when the deceased person did not leave directions regarding their digital estate/digital content/ digital legacy.
  • FebruaryMagen Born receives a text message and finds out that her husband Joshua Born, a soldier in the US army was killed in Afghanistan. An example of how quickly information is distributed in the digital era, of the responsibility each one must have regarding publications after death and of the need for awareness and ethics. For additional reading:
  • A professional restoration lab succeeds in restoring some of the pictures that were stored in the mobile phone of Ayala Ifrah, who perished in the Carmel disasterReceiving the pictures was very emotional for her mother. An example of the enormous importance that digitally saved memories has – especially when being the last to stay after a loved person passed away.
Newspaper article


  • OctoberDJ Danny Bar dies on the stand during work. Until today (2014), the LinkedIn suggests him as a potential connection to the professional musicians’ network. An example of dealing with online life after death.
  • AprilMy brother, Tal Shavit, was killed by car hit in March. In April, his Yahoo email account was hacked and used to distribute spam. This is how my journey to the worlds of digital death begun. An example of the difficulties death in the modern era brings – confrontations that the relatives of deceased persons did not have to deal with.
Print Screen of the inbox of a good friend of Tal's



  • JanuaryThe personal computer of Haim Avraham gets stolen, with irreplaceable memories and photos of his deceased son, the soldier Benny AvrahamAn example of the enormous pain that may be caused for the loved ones, when not having the digital legacy of the deceased.
Website article, print screen

  • After the death of 22 years old Loren Williams, his parents, Karen and David filed a lawsuit against Facebook, in order to gain access to his account. To the best of my knowledge, it is the first kind of a lawsuit against Facebook.His mother takes actions until this day so that other family members of deceased people will not lose pictures of their loved ones, as happened to her – Facebook removed her son’s account along with all the pictures in it, that were lost for his family. Meanwhile, the attempt for change of legislation she initiated in the state of Oregon, was unsuccessfulAn example of the gap between the will of the family and the policies of the service providers, and an example of the importance of the digital legacy of a deceased person for her/his loved ones.


  • DecemberAfter the death of soldier Justin Ellsworth in Iraq, his family turns to Yahoo asking for access to his account, and get refused. This was the first case of dealing with digital death that got to the media, and caused a media and public uproarAn example of the gap between the family’s will and the policies of the service providers , and an example of the importance of the digital legacy of the deceased for her/his loved ones.

My heartfelt thanks to Amir Shemesh, who volunteered to translate this post. It went online in the Hebrew version of the blog in May 2014 and I've been updating it there since.