I recently had the opportunity to help a small funeral home facing a tough situation. There was a tragic death involving a high school teen and suicide.
While certain elements of funeral planning remain the same, in a teen’s death, there are many other factors involved. Crowd control is one priority, as these types of funerals are rarely small events. Another is communication, as teens have their own version of a busy lifestyle. In this case, classes were going to be closed, to allow across-the-board availability.
As I talk of quite often, social media can be used in both positive and negative scenarios. In this event, the teen was actively involved with social media — having both Myspace, Facebook and Twitter accounts. The privacy settings were kept at a non-existent level, so both the good and the bad elements involved were available for the eyes of general public. I found it rather chilling to be able to view the teens final Facebook updates and last tweet on Twitter. And it was even more disturbing to learn from earlier postings, that there had been strong examples of cyberbullying.
As disturbing as the cyberbullying was, I was able to find a positive note. The teens friends had set-up a Facebook Memorial page for her and folks were, after viewing the other pages and tweets, were making the memorial page their next stop. It became obvious that I was not the only one disturbed by the troubling posts. Community members that did not know the teen personally, were coming to the pages and offering sympathy and condolences. What was becoming even more obvious, was the sense of growing awareness. What had been making headlines in the larger cities across america, cyberbullying, had even made its way into this small, close-knit community.
We put together a station of computers, all with internet access, for those without such access to view and leave personal messages and condolences. Due to the response, we had to extend the hours of operation. Another group sent the condolences across Twitter, as they came in, allowing fellow students to follow along. The funeral had more than 1200 people and all had the opportunity to take part in the Facebook Memorial page. What began as a simple social media idea, turned into a tremendous, yet unexpected awareness program.