Facebook aids grieving process

Facebook helps college students in the grieving process, according to a recent study.

Christine Chan, Writer

Facebook has become an evident part of the grieving process after deaths, a recent study found.

Facebook grieving brings temporary relief

The study was done by R. Chris Fraley, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Amanda Vicary, a graduate student at the same university studying social-personality psychology. Published last month, the study found that Facebook brought temporary, but not long-term, relief as part of the grieving process for students who had been through an ordeal such as the recent University of Texas shooting.

People need more than one outlet

“It’s good to have a place to vent or to express your feelings, but I think it’s not good if that’s the only place that you have,” said Tracey Hoover, a Biola professor of sociology.

Facebook’s worldwide presence, even in death, is a concept that has spawned page jokes about changing the status of someone who has died to “is dead.” However, for students who have experienced school shootings, like the Virginia Tech University incident in 2007, Facebook is no laughing matter. The social network has become a way for students on campus to cope with the trauma of a campus crisis or the loss of friends and classmates.

Results show facebook helpful for students impacted by shootings

Last month’s study was conducted through an online survey sent through a Facebook message to over 900 random students at University of Texas and Virginia Tech. The survey asked students to rank on a five-point progression scale whether communicating with others online helped them feel better. Results revealed that most students felt better after posting on a Facebook wall or joining a shootings-related group on Facebook. The score for feeling better after posting on a Facebook wall averaged 3.72 out of 5, and the score for improved morale after joining a group averaged 3.57 out of 5. Students also thought there were short-term advantages to using Facebook, both as a community and as a therapy method.

Facebook changing structure of community Hoover said that the use of Facebook has changed the structure of community. Social networking is a change from interpersonal relationships to technologically based relationships. She added that there is a certain value in interpersonal relationships, like the physical aspect of face-to-face, as opposed to a telephone call. Without that aspect, she noted that part of the connecting process is lost.

Journalism professor Tamara Welter agreed. Welter, who teaches classes on the convergence of various media types, said that though Facebook is often used by the modern generation as a tool for communicating, students might not be getting what they need.

“Certainly, there is value in communicating your feelings in honest truth, and this generation, I think, feels a lot more comfortable doing that in an online setting than previous generations,” Welter said.

Social networking crucial in college

Social networking has become an important part of communicating in the collegiate world, and it has been shown to be advantageous for schools during times of crisis in the past. Most recently, the texts and tweets sent out to students during the shooting at the University of Texas were later credited in assisting to keep campus chaos under control.

In the event of an emergency, Campus Safety has also implemented mass texting to send out campus-wide information or warnings. But some students have questioned whether sharing personal feelings online about something as serious as a campus shooting is going too far. Senior Jennifer Trimble said she felt that using Facebook to talk about a campus crisis was almost belittling the story, and could cause doubts about whether the Facebook commenter was genuine about what happened.

Students' standards for posting emotions

Junior Anna Tichon, a communications major, had similar feelings about using Facebook as part of the grieving process.

“I don’t think I would post super personal things for everyone to see, but maybe [I would use it] to get in contact with certain people or message someone,” Tichon said. “I don’t think I would post something for everyone to see in my grieving process.”

Trimble observed that, although she is not a person who uses Facebook as an announcement board for her life, there are many who do, and it is those people who might use the website and its community as a part of their grieving process.

“When you have a struggle and you’re expressing those feelings of grief, suddenly your community comes around you,” Welter said. “Facebook extends that possibility of having to go out and meet with a group. It’s one positive tool that can be used as long as it’s not isolated and the only tool being used.”

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