As a new recruit to Facebook, I admit I was not exactly on the first-wave of the online social networking phenomena. It’s not that I’m a techo-phobe by any measure (my blackberry is a constant companion).

Just a few of Michael Jackson's nearest and dearest.

It’s just that I am not entirely convinced that the addition of a Facebook page will enhance either my work or personal lives.  And the thing is, in this job, the two are often inextricably linked. MPs are public figures - albeit very minor ones. And - after sharing weekends, evenings and most waking hours with either my local constituents, my parliamentary colleagues,  Industry groups and stakeholders within my shadow portfolio responsibilities -  I’d kinda like to keep a little bit of me just for my nearest and dearest.

Call me old fashioned (and I’m sure many of you will) but I prefer to share my personal trials, triumphs and trivia with those I am closest to, rather than the-acquaintance-of-an-acquaintance who I met once at a function and who has now requested to be my “friend”.

Yes, I know I can so “no”, but I can’t quite work out the etiquette in that regard.  Besides, it goes very much against the conditioning of many years spent handshaking and networking real-time with real people, which comes with this job.

So it follows that my Facebook page is more work than personal. Please “become my friend” if you want to read the transcript of my latest interview!

And I guess it also follows that I’m experiencing a gnawing “uneasiness” at some of the things we’ve witnessed recently – sisters finding out about the death of their brother on Facebook, tribute pages to two slain children being subject to obscenities and pornography.

The people who would be so cruel and insensitive as to post obscenities on a tribute site are below contempt.  They are sick and a sad reminder that there is a small element like that in the community. Clearly, those who operate Facebook have a responsibility to do whatever they can to crack down on this practice.

But I also wonder about the social impulse that results in these tribute pages instantly appearing (in some cases dozens and often established by strangers) - particularly when a tragic and untimely death is made public.

And I wonder what compels thousands of people (also strangers to the deceased) to post their own comments on the tragedy?

Of course, we can’t help but be moved when we read stories like the horrendous deaths of the 12 year old boy in the schoolyard or the 8 year old girl abducted from her home.  But what moves us to take to the computer?

When did grief become a public forum?  Do the families of those involved really gain a great deal of comfort from the outpouring?

I am sure that advocates of Facebook will assert it’s no different to members of a local community gathering together to mourn someone who, while not well known to them all, is still considered part of the community.

Funerals in small towns are often attended by those who, while not personal friends, pay their respects for the person’s contribution and role in society.

And I’d suggest that most of us, if we found ourselves standing next to a stranger who was grieving the loss of a loved one, would offer a hug or a comforting pat on the back just because we are there and the act of reaching out is utterly instinctual.

Comfort from strangers can remind us of our inter-connectedness as human beings and be a powerful force for good.

Yet there’s still a disconcerting aspect to this “social grieving” trend.

Perhaps it’s because the online “community” is so vast, the numbers so great, and the connections so transient that the outpourings from strangers can begin to lack meaning.

Perhaps it’s because there’s something a little clinical and disconnected about turning to a computer to express what is the rawest of human emotions – grief.  Perhaps it’s because mourning is such a deeply personal experience.

Perhaps it’s because it can have unintended consequences - like the sisters who learnt of the death of their brother when they logged on to find that a well-meaning friend had posted an RIP tribute to him just a few hours after he’d passed away in a horrific car accident in the early hours of the morning?

Instead of this person reaching out directly to the family involved, or even to someone they themselves loved, their first instinct was to reach out into cyberspace – and that seems more than a little sad.

I am not suggesting that Facebook is not an innovative and interesting social tool.

Many people love it. And I get that. It keeps them up-to-date with what their friends and family are doing…they can share news, photos, ideas – when they want and how they want.  And in this time-poor age, the beauty is it’s a broadcast message.  It negates, to a degree, the need for that individual phone call or catch-up.

And maybe that’s what rankles. Simplistically, there’s a “quality vs quantity” aspect to this form of communication.  It’s quick and relatively easy to type a message or upload a photo.  It takes a bit more time and effort to physically connect with or have a conversation with someone.

But surely someone who’s grieving needs that physical connection most of all?

It also seems more than a little ironic that we have a plethora of laws to protect people’s privacy, yet more and more people appear willing to lay their lives bare on a social networking site.  I wonder how many will regret having done so at some point in the future?

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61 comments

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    • Eric says:

      05:43am | 26/02/10

      “I wonder what compels thousands of people (also strangers to the deceased) to post their own comments on the tragedy?”

      Probably the same impulse that lead you to write this article.

      The Internet is a democratising phenomenon. It used to be only the privileged, such as journalists and politicians, who could address the public en masse. Now everyone can.

      Get used to it.

    • Jimmy says:

      04:36pm | 26/02/10

      Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn’t mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar.

      - Edward R. Murrow

    • Eric says:

      05:09pm | 26/02/10

      And your point is ...?

    • Jones says:

      01:23pm | 28/02/10

      You just proved the point, Eric.

    • Vicki PS says:

      05:52am | 26/02/10

      Grief gestures are an easy way to gain a bit of moral high ground, with minimal investment of time or real emotion.  The obverse are the hate gestures e.g. “I hate paedophiles” Facebook group.  It’s just a way of trumpeting to the world what a good worthy person you are.

    • SincerlyYours says:

      06:35am | 26/02/10

      It would be nice to physically reach out and comfort someone who has a loss, but the reality is most of us don’t know the families but we do feel genuine grief and shock this has happened in Australia, particularly the murder of children. Facebook is a way to say “whilst I don’t know you personally I am deeply sorry for your loss”. I am not a facebook user at all but I can see the need for some to post there as a mark of respect. I can also see that there is a big hole for people to abuse it. Until that hole is closed, I feel more incidents there will occur. I am sure facebook users have a different view and can enlighten me

    • iansand says:

      07:46am | 26/02/10

      Congratulations on not blaming the Labor government.  It must have been hard.

      I also find this puzzling, but I am an old fart so have an excuse.  I call it competitive compassion.  People trying to prove that trhey are sweeter, kinder human beings than the next person by racing each other to set up memorials for people with whom they have minimal connection.

    • Steve of Cornubia says:

      07:53am | 26/02/10

      I seem to recall that Facebook acted pretty promptly to remove the ‘Rudd Fail’ group (or whatever it was called). How come they can’t remove the much more offensive pages that we’re hearing about now?

      Why do they seem to have no problem protecting prominent figures from criticism, yet unable to protect ordinary citizens from disgusting and hurtful hate mail? Facebook appears to be another world where all are equal, but some more equal than others.

    • Mark says:

      08:01am | 26/02/10

      Great post Sophie, first time I think I have ever agreed with you. Tribute pages feel to me liek they reduce grief to the click of a button which is so easy to do then forget about.

    • Eliza says:

      08:07am | 26/02/10

      Ditto. It’s actually the first time I’ve gotten through all of one of Mirabella’s pieces on here. It’s a peculiar phenomenon, this Facebook/grief nexus and one that I think is worth reflecting on the value of. That’s been done eloquently here.

    • Mat says:

      09:49am | 26/02/10

      I agree about first time I’ve agreed with you. I think the way in which the public grieved after the death of Princess Diana changed forever the way we think about public grief. Grief is the most intensely private of experiences, yet you can’t drive down a busy country road without seeing bunches of flowers tied to power poles or little crosses stuck in the dirt. And the facebook grieving pages are just the logical extension of that phenomenon. I did think it was odd for Anna Bligh and Stephen Conroy (of all people!) to be demanding that facebook “do something” about those who put inappropriate material on those pages. No one’s under any compulsion to set up a facebook grieving page, and facebook is deliberately set up so people (whatever their views or odd compulsions) can interact freely. If you don’t like it, don’t use it.

    • Nicole says:

      08:12am | 26/02/10

      I agree with this. When I think back on loved ones I’ve known who have died, the idea of jumping onto the computer and setting up a Facebook memorial page seems absolutely abhorrent to me. I guess everyone is different but I can’t get over the thought that Facebook memorial pages are more a way to publicly state “hey, I knew this person, I am really upset that they’ve died and I think everyone should know about it!” than a real way of mourning someone’s loss. If a close friend of mine died tomorrow and a tribute page was set up, I wouldn’t join it, and if someone sets up a lame tribute page to me after I’m gone I will come back and haunt them until they take it down.

    • J says:

      08:27am | 26/02/10

      I’m not big on the grief thing either.  People who post “RIP Grandma” in their Facebook status - seems to me like they’re just gunning for some sympathy.  Why can’t you just call those who need to know if you need to talk about your grief?

      Oh, and Sophie - nothing wrong with saying “Ignore” to friend requests.  I don’t friend people at work.  I don’t friend people I haven’t met in person.  I don’t respond to the 20 million group requests I receive, and I definitely don’t respond to the “Super Cool 10 Year School Reunion!” invites I keep getting from people who I didn’t know in high school.  You can keep your FB all to yourself and your nearest and dearest - and spend your “face time” doing proper networking.

      The best of both worlds….

    • thatmosis says:

      08:29am | 26/02/10

      This Facebook memorial Page phenominum is getting out of hand. Its like those little crosses that spring up on roads when someone is killed ,totally unneeded. Grief should be a private thing and if people want to support the grief stricken then they should either attend the funeral or send a card, other than that is morbid.

    • Alyssa KT says:

      09:08am | 26/02/10

      Ah, those little “unneeded” crosses are actually to remind others of the danger of that section of road and hopefully deter them from not driving as safely as possible…

      A Facebook memorial page set up by strangers for strangers so all can feel proud of their grief is different.

    • lantana says:

      01:42pm | 26/02/10

      No, Alyssa KT, those little crosses have nothing to do with prospective road safety.  They are part of the let-it-all-hang-out school of very public but not always well motivated (other than in the case of family members) grieving.

      But you are dead right about the macabre trend for the Facebook sites in question.

    • saferty1st says:

      01:28pm | 28/02/10

      One of those ‘unneeded’ crosses marks the spot where a young boy was killed on his bike. It is just near a school crossing and serves two very valuable services. Firstly, most locals know of the family and are respectful to their loss; and secondly children pay a hell of a lot more attention crossing the road there knowing a mate their age died.

      Perhaps others could also be a tad more respectful….

    • SLF says:

      08:38am | 26/02/10

      I completely agree. This sort of nonsense is more about showing people that you care (whether you do or not) and is little more than grandstanding your emotions.

      All about look at me, look at how upset I am , look at me, look at me, I am really upset, so look at me, I want some attention.

      As for people thinkiong the families care and need an expression of grief from total strangers? Do they? Do they really feel a facebook tribute page will help their loss and anguish? I would be surprised if someone felt a status update, or creation of a group on a vacuous social media site lessened their loss or helped in the grieving process especially as eveyone knows facebook is their so you dont have to spend time with people.

      If people are really ,moved then write someone a letter. It is personal, takes time and effrot and is far more appropriate that a Tweet or some such.

    • Julia says:

      09:07am | 26/02/10

      I tend to agree. What good is it to write a comment on a personal Facebook status update about Michael Jackson dying? Do you think Jermaine and Latoya are reading random facebook pages looking for any scrap of comfort? (If they can get off the reality TV circuit long enough to log in.)

      I’ve found some of the friends I have on FB have no shame about what they put in their status updates. While I’m happy to talk about the cat being sick and the trauma of cleaning the floor (hoping everyone will have a laugh) should I be made to feel like a heal for not commenting when a person I know says she’s again in a doctor’s surgery?

      And if I click the ‘like’ button, am I saying I like it that she’s at the doctor’s? Or am I showing sympathy?

      The death of dignity.

    • Darren says:

      09:14am | 26/02/10

      I agree they are extremely hollow - much like the Federal Liberal party

    • Julia says:

      09:41am | 26/02/10

      Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.

      Ah, but that insulation thing aint our problem.

    • Gavin says:

      01:28pm | 26/02/10

      Look Darren I despise the political ideals of this author, but come on cut the cheap shots. You’re not funny or clever, you are acting like the same opportunitic facebook vandals by vandalising The Punch with irrelevent digs. Not the time or place old son.

    • Darryl Price says:

      09:17am | 26/02/10

      I think you capture it all in the headline.
      Well said.

    • Luke says:

      09:53am | 26/02/10

      People have different ways of grieving, and a FB memorial page is one way of doing that.  Some people prefer to do it in private, others prefer to leave a message for someone as their way of doing it.  I wouldn’t imagine too many of the people who post something aren’t being genuine, and they do really feel something.  If its not for you, then don’t worry about it - simple really.
      It is similar to messages of condolence sent after a disaster - you really think that the victims of the bushfires in Victoria cared too much about what Princes’ William and Harry sent? It was the Princes’ way of showing they cared about what happened and their way of dealing with it - same as a memorial FB page.

    • thatmosis says:

      10:04am | 26/02/10

      Sorry Alyssa KT but those crosses dont do a thing for me but remind me that some of them are for idiots that killed themselves and their family/friends. The councils should remove them all as they are visual garbage and Im pretty sure people dont have Council permission to put them there.

    • Kim says:

      12:25pm | 26/02/10

      True, but it is also a reminder to young people, not to speed, drink drive, or just to remind them that the stretch of road they are on is not safe.  I say, let the family and friends have their crosses.

    • Julia says:

      02:02pm | 26/02/10

      I hate those crosses. I really hate the cheap sun-bleached plastic flowers hanging off them with ratty sticky tape.

    • basenjirudi says:

      10:18am | 26/02/10

      I agree with Sophie Mirabella (though could have done without the patronising non-word ‘kinda’).

      Eric Says, in the very first comment, that he wonders what compels people to act as they do - then correctly answers his own query. People will always maximise self satisfaction and minimize self dissatisfaction (being the same thing).

      He is also correct in stating that the internet is a democratising phenomenon which now empowers many to address many others. FaceBook users (and users of other forums) demonstrably include contemptible, vicious and cruel freaks. A pity that Eric Says, so dismissively, that we should ‘get used to it’

    • Madeleine says:

      10:32am | 26/02/10

      ‘Online tributes a hollow imitation of genuine grief’

      Oh I’m so glad your here, Sophie Mirabella, to see into my soul and tell whether I’m genuinely greiving or not. This article wasn’t judgemental in the slightest.

    • Bob says:

      11:19am | 26/02/10

      I’m glad somebody said this, it was the first thing that I thought of when I read the headline.

      Do you feel the same way about obituaries and memoriam notices in the papers, Sophie? Facebook tributes are but an evolution of those.

    • jessica says:

      01:21pm | 26/02/10

      I also dont see it as any different to the obituaries

    • Willy K says:

      10:35am | 26/02/10

      Spot on.  Facebook and in particular FB Tribute Pages are simply are gathering place for narcissists.  They don’t care about the person they are simply trying to show off.  Facebook is handy for letting family and friends know what you are up to if away etc but honestly I have hidden 90% of the updates from people as it is simply a bizarre ego trip.

      It has been an insight into the female mind for me and sadly i don’t really like what I see.  As my GF used to say ‘girl-world’ is a weird place!  The emotions, gossip, nastiness and trouble making of FB is awful.  Seems to me that the average emotional level is that of a 15 yr old schoolgirl.

    • Henry says:

      11:08am | 26/02/10

      Very true.  Facebook is a narcissists playground.  Has been the subject of many Psych studies.  A place where pseudo anonymous cowards can lie, snoop, and snipe others.

      Just like charity armband wearers.  Just a sad bunch of puffed-up self-important, boring tossers.

    • Kim says:

      12:30pm | 26/02/10

      And yet there are soooo many people on FB.  Does this make the majority of the population narcissistic?

      Probably.

      All my friends call me boring because I’m not a member of FB, quite frankly I’d rather read my books than spend more time in front of a computer.

    • Ella says:

      11:08am | 26/02/10

      I think there are problems with facebook and its not just about grief it’s also about positive events. Had a new nephew born last week and when I asked for a photo was told there were some on facebook. Because no one in our family uses facebook complete strangers and friends found out about the birth and got pictures before anyone in the family did. There’s something quite wrong about that.

    • Harquebus says:

      11:38am | 26/02/10

      Never ever ever, use your real name on the internet.

    • Adam Dennis says:

      01:42pm | 26/02/10

      H, I don’t know how your comment connects with the topic at hand, but my response is that if everyone used their real name on the Internet it’d be a much nicer and more constructive place. Too many people hide behind non-identifying names, often to say truly awful things. I call on people to identify themselves whenever they’re presenting an opinion (unless of course there is a realistic threat to their person or business that would arise from espousing that position). If more ordinary people are bold, the anonymous people will become more obvious and less welcome.

    • Jonno says:

      11:46am | 26/02/10

      Facebook is a problem looking for a solution.
      Like most things, its going to be misused by those without ethics and ideals.
      As well as by those who think everyone thinks like them and are moral people.
      Rules will eventually have to be made to stop those who screw everything up, and as usual, the rest will pay for their bad behavior.
      What about certain areas where outsiders who by their behavior get banned….
      This will mean a universal identification system…..
      I wonder how long this will take? We will always need an area for bouncing thoughts around. That will have to remain too…..

    • pete says:

      12:16pm | 26/02/10

      this is really quiet interesting, You hear stories all the time that the youth of today are disassociating from society and that they dont communicate enough, yet when they do, even if it is to comment on a complete strangers death you are puzzled by it, perhaps they do because they are a herd animal like the rest of us, dont get me wrong I find facebook tributes as strange as road side memorials, but some people obviously have a need to do it.  I agree with Sophie, that its a good thing that she has not set up a face book page, it will save her a lot of time, I mean she only has to post here to be abused over her rants. Imagine the time out of her day to check the barometer in two places instead of one. I would have thoufght Tony” hairshirt” abbot would have kept you to busy to be worried about facebook

      Biggest puzzle from parliament this week,,,,, why hasnt anyone given PG the nickname of Battman?

    • Moi says:

      12:54pm | 26/02/10

      Yes the whole Facebook grief thing is out of hand. I recently heard about a woman who gave birth to a still born baby, her and her partner then dressed the baby, took photos of it and published them on Face Book. It’s fair enough that people grieve in different ways, but as Sophie said - isn’t it nice to keep some things private?

      And yes, thanks for not having a dig at the ALP - full respect.

    • jessica says:

      01:19pm | 26/02/10

      I dont know about tribute pages but when my stepfather passed away tragically recently, my family and I did read and felt supported by all the comments left on our facebook pages and the comments left on online forums about him.
      It did help to know that people cared about our loss and were sending us their good wishes, and how many people in the community were affected.

    • aeon says:

      01:25pm | 26/02/10

      these facebook tributes might not mean anything for the people who had just simply watched the tv and learned about the death of the Brisbane school boy but they helped the kids who lived in that community and went to his school cope with their grief. who are you to tell them how they should grieve.

    • 6clegs says:

      01:30pm | 26/02/10

      Finally!

      Was begining to think it would never happen - me and the good member for Indi having the very same thoughts/opinion!

      But, i do have online friends,some of whom have become personal friends via a US horse board ~ it is a very supportive community, whether one has ‘lost’ a horse/dog/cat,  human, or, won/lost a major competition. Nothing much of life isn’t discussed there.

      I think that like the real world introducing oneself gently [for want of a better word] like you would over a period of time to a new bunch of friends, and just be yourself is how one should behave online - and that someone elses grief is not something to take advantage of by sad souls seeking attention.

      I’ve made many new real life friends via the internet, but, i’m still aiming to be the only person without a Facebook account left in the developed world.

      Even though my grandson lives 2 states away, we still manage to stay connected weekly via the actual written word - even though his parents are on the net it puts less pressure on them while he’s young.

      And I heartlily agree that one *should not* use ones real name on the net, unless one is a public person making a public statement that requires it, a nom de plume is safer and can make commenting much more *ahem* fun

      [fingers/toes/boobs crossed that i’ve done the html tags correctly…?]

    • Brian says:

      03:05pm | 26/02/10

      How about an apology from Peter Garrett and Kevin Rudd to the families of installers of insulation under their scheme?

      How about an apology for handing out even more money like it was confetti?

    • Shane says:

      03:31pm | 26/02/10

      How about sticking to the point?

    • Nicole says:

      03:37pm | 26/02/10

      What does that have to do with Facebook tribute pages?

    • T.Chong says:

      03:54pm | 26/02/10

      Good going Brian, even some of the most extreme patisans ( yes, including myself, )have managed to keep the politics out of this article by Sen.Sophie.
      Were you dared to write yur crap, or just out for a bit of trolling?

    • Brian Connor says:

      04:19pm | 26/02/10

      What point - silly article - Facebook is the pub/cafe for teenagers and Gen Y’s - anyone over 30 who uses it is a wierdo.

      Tribute pages ? Big effort to post a one-liner and hit click. Why not walk to newsagent, buy a card, think of something meaningful and send to someone close to that person. Facebook tributes are like the outpouring of grief for Michael Jackson…....pretty swiftly glossed over the fact that the guy was very suspect and alledged to ave done some very bad things.

      I am sorry for calling for some accountability from Garrett and Rudd…....all these millions and billions are REAL MONEY.

      T.Chong - lose the chip on your shoulder about being an ALP voter. That party doesn’t care about you or anyone else…...e.g. Arbib/Roozendaal property -all about self enrichment and power.

    • Brian says:

      04:36pm | 26/02/10

      BTW T.Chong….....trolling is the pursuit of a few Labor MPs mate if you know what I mean:

      en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_Orkopoulos

    • H of SA says:

      04:23pm | 26/02/10

      I dunno Sophie, does not a public social network grief page perform the same function as a memorial on the side of the road where there was a car crash?

      When people deface graves we don’t suggest that graves are not wise, we just think grave robbers/vandals have committed a crime.

    • Maurie says:

      04:56pm | 26/02/10

      “Instead of this person reaching out directly to the family involved, or even to someone they themselves loved, their first instinct was to reach out into cyberspace – and that seems more than a little sad.”

      That’s the best line - by all means share your grief and help to support the deceased’s family - but why not send a sympathy card to the family without all the public fanfare - so much of this is the classical 15 mins of fame.

    • Pause for thought says:

      05:05pm | 26/02/10

      Brian you might also want to look up the Catholic priest who jailed this week this week after he admitted seeking a 13-year-old girl, via the internet, for sexual purposes. Milton Orkopoulos is a disgrace, but so is this priest who sought out this young girl and Tony Abbott was studying for the priesthood I believe. One bad apple does not make a whole barrel septic. Its sad you have spoiled what should be a conversation about Facebook. Thats the Liberals for you!!

    • Heather says:

      04:00am | 28/02/10

      Pause for thought said:

      “One bad apple does not make a whole barrel septic.”

      and

      “Thats the Liberals for you!!”

      Ever heard of the word Hypocrisy?  Look it up.  Btw, if you look above, you will see it was the Laborites who came in sledging first.  Double-hypocrisy.  Double Fail!

    • stevo ross says:

      12:13pm | 28/02/10

      People who don’t know the deceased person and comment on or start these memorial pages are just sad attention seekers. Family should be able to have a private memorial page if they want but they should set it up only for family to post on.
      Memorial page posters are the same kinda people who go to funerals after only meeting someone once for 10 minutes, 10 years ago.

      Its just that facebook brings the lonely and pointless together and it makes it seem like the whole world is full of retarded weirdos.

      Thankfully most people are not stupid enough to post on these pages and tell a grieving family their ‘2 cents worth’  regarding the death of someone they never even knew.

      Please remember how annoying you find randoms - and then wonder how annoying a bunch of opinionated randoms would be while your grieving.

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