Kobe Bryant and death in the social media age


Expat Media

Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, were killed in a helicopter crash in January.

LaMonte Patterson, Assistant Viewpoints Editor

I will never forget how I first heard that Kobe Bryant had died. ‘Til that moment, everything about that Sunday seemed normal. I took a shower, ate breakfast, and even arrived on time for the weekly editorial board meeting. I sat in my regular seat at the table, and the meeting ran its typical course. And yet, somehow, amid all that regularity, Kobe died. Luckily, my good friend, social media, was more than happy to inform me.

My initial reaction was denial. After all, Kobe dying in a helicopter crash sounds like something you would read in The Onion. However, as more and more sources began to confirm the news of his passing, my disbelief faded into shock, followed by sadness. The experience was my own, but then again, anyone in the range of WiFi signal would tell you a similar story.

In the age of social media, death has lost its intimacy. Today, someone’s death is an experience we can all share, and because of the unique qualities of the internet, the feelings of grief are ceaseless. Death is no longer a moment in time. The bits and pieces of ourselves that we disperse online ensure that, even in our passing, our presence will be here to torment those we leave behind. Social media is changing the way we mourn, grieve, and die.

The life we live after we are gone is a very real experience because our online existence does not die when we do. Facebook still thinks we will be around to celebrate our next birthday. Our friends will always be asked if they want to invite us to events we can not attend. Whether we like it or not, social media will remind our loved ones of our death over and over again without warning. Whatever feelings, happy or sad, will be resummoned for them to sort through, and for no other reason than that, they decided to check their notifications.

The showmanship aspect of social media also impacts how we mourn in the modern era. The internet landscape is rife with pretense, and the insincerity within other people does not die when we do. Now that death has become fodder for the online masses, people feel a need to stake a claim in the death of others. Whether personally affected or not, some people will go out of their way to post mushy novel-length twitter threads misrepresenting the deceased or sterilizing what happened to them. The flood of encouragement towards the bereaved is understandable, but not all of it is genuine. Some see death as an opportunity to engage in showmanship and diminish loss. Gaslighting someone’s death in an effort to rationalize a tragedy is not public grieving; it is debauchery.

As the way we live becomes more and more tethered to the internet, so does the way we die. Today we have the newsfeed, but in the past, we had rituals and traditions. In a time before social media, mourning was governed by routine and ceremony. If a loved one passed, you said your prayers and wore black clothes. Little things like this helped us navigate through tough times or know when others needed us to be there for them. Now, grieving has become a lawless public experience that leaves many vulnerable to a neverending rollercoaster of emotion and deception. The whole idea of social media is to connect us to other people, but there are some instances where the 24-hour-on-demand connection is both harmful and unneeded. Death is one such instance.