Botswana was rocked by tragedy in 2011 when former High Court Judge and Ombudsman committed suicide at his farm. The news broke on Twitter. His body was still warm when the social media started swirling even before the police could notify the next of kin. While most people reacted with disgust and anger, the incident marked a major shift in how Botswana deals with death in the digital era.
Dr Sethunya Mosime, a senior Sociology lecturer at The University of Botswana says she has noticed two ways in which social media has influenced mourning. “there is the breaking news approach where people have the “I got it first” mindset, it was largely seen in 2017 when a lot of people were seen sharing deaths and accidents on social media, people were discouraged to do that and warnings from kgotlas’ seemed futile. Social media brings excitement to things that are anything but exciting such as death, the re bontsheng craze makes people somewhat insensitive to death. The second approach was a complete different one, social media was a site for pouring out condolences and paying tributes when former president Sir Ketumile Masire and Bonno Manyuni the young pilot passed on. Display pictures were of the deceased people and people collectively mourned these people through social media.
Our lives are increasingly being monitored on social media. We’re inclined to share life’s biggest momentsÔÇöbirths, graduations and engagements. Local social networkers have now added death to the list.
Two years ago local businessman Moses Modise and his wife were killed in a gruesome murder in South Africa. For more than a week there was a virtual memorial on his Facebook wall: Friends telling him how much they loved him and would miss him; some expressing their sympathy and sending prayers to his family.
In the days before social media, condolences came in the form of house visits, phone calls and floral deliveries as well as food and drink deliveries to feed all the sad souls. Fast forward to the technology age where there is a new way of expressing grief ÔÇô online tributes in the form of short tweets, Instagram collages and Facebook posts. There are people who believe that putting bad news on social media trivializes it.
Technology has changed the way we mourn and the act of mourning online is now a gesture. Social media dwellers often joke that if something isn’t on social media then it didn’t happen, so with the obsession of putting everything on social media it seems fitting to acknowledge the death of a loved one on social media.
Many people argue that, sharing loss on social media is rooted in a desire to pay respects, but also in a desire to draw attention to the fact that the loss is somehow about us, too. Mourning online allows people to stake a claim on the tragedy ÔÇö even one that doesn’t have a direct impact on them. People race to share the news of a celebrity death (real or rumoured) in a constant game of one-upmanship. Social media feeds into our desire to be the source of breaking information, to feel important, to be seen as knowledgeable and interesting. Retweeting tragedy becomes less about the expression of grief and more about wanting to prove we’re in the know and that we, too, were affected by the loss.
Maduo Ramoraka, who works at the Ministry Of Education in Gaborone says writing RIP on Facebook is attention seeking, but in the most literal sense – it’s a way of saying “someone I knew and cared about died and I’m not coping very well, maybe the instant gratification people get in the form of likes and comments makes the pain seem more bearable.” She says often times people don’t know when to draw the line between what’s acceptable to post as people go to the extent of posting horrible car accidents.
Gaone Modise, an employee at Mascom in Game City detests the new age mourning. “I don’t agree with it at all, I think finding out about a death on social media is the worst possible way to find out about the news, mourning was once a private affair now it is done on social media. It has become a somewhat cheap and easy way to share grief. People say things like “we care about you and we’re here for you” next thing you see them on the street and it’s like they don’t even know you nor do they care like they claim.” She says young people are the ones quick to post and share such news, giving a phoney impression that they knew the deceased person and to show that they too are grieving.