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Friday, September 17, 2021

Social Media algorithms control how I grieve

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How does a digital death affect those who are left behind?

The email from my dead mom casually arrives in my inbox one mid-pandemic afternoon, barely announcing itself. The subject line says, “Beverly Blum just comment on a hyperlink you shared.”

One glorious millisecond, I let myself live in fantasy land where my mother uses social media from a perch high above the vast beyond.

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The email opens and I reply: “Great piece, Dad!”

Ah, yes. Oh, right. My father of 82 years never desired to create his Facebook account so he uses my mother’s username. “Thanks Beverly Dad,” I respond.

As I rise to make tea, something happens: The digital photo frame that I have in my kitchen displays a picture of my mother on the DC subway when I visited her freshman year. We’re heading to the zoo and she looks happy like never before.

The dog is frightened and turns into a soft lump on my leg. Next, I recall the other images Google Photos will undoubtedly show me: My mom in my apartment singing Ray Charles and connected to a bunch of tubes.

Since more than one year, I have let algorithms determine how I grieve. The code that searches through my photos and displays them in random order in an algorithm has greatly influenced my emotional life.

This is something I know there is an easy solution to. It’s possible to hide photos of my mother or disable her Facebook zombie account. This is how I have grown to grieve. Because technology has dictated my memories and times, I have let it.

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