Terzis, Gillian: hashtag activism and online grief

Terzis, Gillian

Death trends: hashtag activism and the rise of online grief‘, Kill Your Darlings, July 2015

Our constant connection to the news and to the opinions of others means that grief can easily become a viral phenomenon … I dreaded the [Chan-Sukumaran] execution, but I also dreaded the ensuing response and the hectoring op-eds to come.

While horrified by the executions of two rehabilitated men, Terzis ‘felt perturbed by how grief and omnidirectional anger had obliterated all nuance’. She looks at how grief is ‘routinely politicised’ but how the possibility of policy responses to tragedy is crushed by the demands of the news cycle.

The article has some very interesting things to say about the nature of mass grief in the twenty-first century and how social media transmits emotion. ‘One thing we can say about social media is that it has ensured death is not out of sight. Death trends.

Terzis also makes a more general point, however, which is relevant to the way we deal with death in war, even after decades have elapsed: it is to do with trying to understand something which is beyond understanding.

How productive are these conversations on social media [Terzis asks], and how do they help us make sense of the incomprehensible? The etiquette surrounding public mourning is evolving, but it’s clear that we’re still working out the bounds of appropriate behaviour. How should a person grieve online? When do we vocalise our emotions, and when should we stay silent?

Terzis gets close to the nub of what makes some of us uncomfortable about the mass grief that others seem to relate to.

Grief subsides, eventually, but true grief – as opposed to the display of grief – has no expiration date. Thousands marched down Sydney Road in honour of Jill Meagher, a testament to hope amid much futility. I was unnerved by the death of Meagher – as well as the deaths of Vukotic and Scott [other women violently murdered] – but I didn’t know if I had a right to feel sad about it. In such murder cases, “it could have been me” is a common refrain. It was a tragedy, but was it my tragedy? (Emphasis added)

Regardless of the social media angle, this raises an important issue, deeply relevant to mass emotion about deaths in war: every such death is a tragedy but is it my tragedy? Is a more rational response to the deaths of strangers – and surely no-one is more of a stranger than a dead soldier a century ago – not to try to emotionally connect with them but to think about how such deaths can be avoided in future?

David Stephens



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