Assess Your Motivations Before Sharing A Celebrity Death On Social Media

Assess Your Motivations Before Sharing A Celebrity Death On Social Media

Yesterday, the critically lauded singer/songwriter David Bowie died of cancer at the age of 69. By now, you’ve doubtlessly seen the news shared on social media more times than you can count. You might have even added a post of your own, complete with a YouTube music video or album cover. In the modern age of Facebook and Twitter, it seems everyone wants to be part of the grieving process. But how many of us are truly devastated fans? Or do we just want to be part of the cultural Zeitgeist?

Bowie picture from Shutterstock

I guess you could call this a pet peeve of mine. For the past 24 hours, roughly 80% of my Facebook feed has been filled with artwork, tributes and miniature eulogies for one Ziggy Stardust. On Twitter, the outpouring of grief is even worse. There’s just no way all of these people are genuinely broken by Bowie’s passing.

Some of them just wanted to be first with the news among their friends and followers. Others were fishing for Twitter hearts and Facebook likes. Some recognised that this death had cultural “cachet” and posted accordingly. The bottom line is that a lot of people are manufacturing sadness and loss for their own selfish reasons.

I don’t know why this irks me so much. In the grand scheme of things, posting a pretentious “RIP” about a celebrity you never cared about affects nobody…but it does highlight just how fake social media can make people. Personally, I think everyone should carefully assess how much a celebrity actually means to them before jumping on the grief bandwagon.

Ask yourself a few questions first: If it’s an actor, how many of their films have you seen and enjoyed? If it’s a singer, how many song lyrics do you have memorised? Did you ever see them in concert? When was the last time you mentioned the artist before their death, in any context?

If you come up short in these categories, you probably shouldn’t be changing your profile pic to the artist in question, as several of my friends have done. Deep down, you know you’re not being genuine and that’s a pretty bad quality to have.

I’m curious to see what other people think about this social media phenomenon — does it bug you too, or am I completely alone here? Discuss!


  • I don’t think you have to show bonafides before paying tribute, actually. Who’s arbitrating this?

    You’re essentially doing the same thing as those who accuse others of being “fake geek girls” or hipster “I was in to David Bowie before he was cool.”

    Whether you were a huge Bowie fan, or someone who just liked that one track, I think people can express their sadness over his passing.

    • I have a Facebook friend who just wants to be first with any death news – and the news of Bowie’s death was a prime example of bad media, with most looking at the tweet as being the only evidence necessary, or those media outlets who like to “fact check” relying on both the tweet, and another news outlet posting it first.

      • I cried, and then pumped out a few of his tunes (very loud) and got drunk, before I hit FB.

    • There’s nothing wrong with it even if they only know the name David Bowie in passing. I get upset when I hear about people I don’t even know dying of drug overdoses, because I know how it feels to lose someone close to me to a drug overdose. There’s no way you can know a person’s exact emotion on something so it’s not fair to criticise them based on your assumption

      Plus, seeing as every man and their dog posts inane comments on twitter alerting us of their hunger, sadness, or something even more cryptic using things like emoticons, a bit of actual directed grief isn’t too bad.

      Your article just kind of screams “don’t like what I like, you’re not allowed. I like it more because of x,y and z and you don’t.”

  • It bugs me as well. Those I knew enjoyed rock music I expected to be posting about Lemmy Kilmeister when he passed, but for a week the posts were everywhere. Now, its David Bowie. Until the next celebrity, its going to be Bowie, Bowie, Bowie, and people reacting to posts.

    I liked his music, I have some on my iPad, but I’ve never seen him in concert, and never had any desire to see him. And most people I know would be the same. But in this day and age, social media lets everyone at least feel they have a connection on some sort of level, and thats what I think they are trying to get across.

    David Bowie was a modern age poet, who’s theatrics changed music in a number of ways. He inspired others to get into the industry, and his style lent itself to some very cool projects. But I’m not going to be posting about it on Facebook, thats for the news sites to do.

    • I was a massive fan, saw him in concert, lived on his music in the 70s and 80s, and only last week picked up a magazine that lauded his new album and thought about picking it up and felt warmed that it was sounding like it would be a return to form. I was also amazed that he looked so slim again and, I don’t know, felt kind of reassured that he was still around, and was looking slim and making music that surprised and moved people. It felt like a massive shock when my daughter told me he had died, I had really only just started thinking of him again. The seemingly suddenness of it really threw me, plus I think in this case, Bowie just kind of seemed bigger than life, and somehow immortal.
      It really freaked me out, I’m not normally upset by famous deaths, after all, I rarely actually know the person intimately, and they don’t know me, but this one really shook me up.

      Still, I wouldn’t post it on social media, but would be very likely to discuss it with friends and read articles, and I guess post on something like this, where I come regularly and it feels like discussing it with friends.
      I don’t get the ‘public tribute’ thing of leaving flowers somewhere, or setting your FB status (it is all over the news anyway so it isn’t like you are CNN informing the world or anything).
      Grief is weird, it has layers and is so personal yet public. I don’t get it generally, so I guess I don’t know how I feel about it.

      • Fair summary. I wondered if it was a generational thing, but friends of a (I’m presuming) similar age to us are among the biggest posters over the last few weeks. Overall, I guess its just how invasive social media has become that drives the urge, and how the individual utilises their various accounts.

        It’s not for me, but I know people that post on Facebook 50 times a day. I post maybe once a week. For those that post so often, its part of their lifestyle, so spreading the news is just a natural extension of that. Which is kind of the point of social media anyway.

        To put it a different way, I’m not the sort that would link a news story, but I’d rather a dozen friends linked something over me missing it completely.

        • I guess for some posting on Facebook *is* chatting with friends. I’m not on any social media really, other than these forums, so it seems odd to me.

          • Yeah, agree. For me, I post when its relevant. Anniversary of something deeply significant (death/birthday of parents sort of thing), or the very occasional sharing of something I felt went beyond clickbait.

            Other friends will happily post that they’ve fed the cat and it looks satisfied. On the other hand, get me in a face to face debate, and I wont shut up, while those same compulsive posters are churchmice. Go figure 🙂

  • I feel a bit strange because I haven’t really been exposed to him and I’m all a bit meh. Everyone else seems to be intimate fans of his work.

  • I’ve been a fan of his work since I was a kid and his work was some of the first music I introduced my son too. I was however in two minds about doing the obligatory twitter post, as frankly I’d rather just listen to his music and not every 2nd person talking about it instead.

    In many ways I find all this akin to being a slacktavist. Saying “me too” with a click and doing nothing with it.

  • This certainly hasn’t annoyed me as much as the “fans” that needed to add a lightsabar to their profile pic on Facebook.

  • I don’t think it’s shallow for even casual fans to feel the loss and express sadness and sympathy for family and friends and fans.

    Of course if people are doing it just for likes and faves, and they are shallow people in and of themselves – one would think you would have unfriended them already online and in real life ? So honestly – your rant seems misdirected at best!

    However – Isn’t this just a by product of the substance that is all of social media??? That people are given this platform to be and feel self centered on – sharing things as if no one has ever experienced these things for themselves? Like sharing every sandwich you eat, every new item you buy, taking a photo of yourself every darn day, and at every function you attend, because surely no one else has ever done these things before you, and if you don’t document in on social media – did it really happen? This is a fair commentary to make – and would have made a good article – but using David Bowies death as a way to air your social media grievances seems like – in an of itself you should have heeded your own advice and perhaps assess your own motivations for writing this.

    End of this sounds like: “I *really* cared and you didn’t, I am the TRUE fan, not you!” which so often comes up inside fandoms with the ridiculous fan infighting on ‘who is the true fan’ and ‘how should they act’ <- Again another interesting article you could discuss, instead.

  • @darren I feel a bit strange because I haven’t really been exposed to him and I’m all a bit meh. Everyone else seems to be intimate fans of his work.

    I was the same about Lemmy, I kind of knew who he was, and the band he was in, but I couldn’t have taken a guess as to his age, or named a song, so it didn’t really affect me at all.
    I guess it is normal not to be affected by someone dying that one knows little about, or whom has had little affect on your life.

  • I hear you Chris.

    I have seen Davie Bowie concert. I bought all of his CDs (up until more recent times). I read books on him, watched interviews, heck, I even own the Blue Jean video with RSF. This was most probably his best video. I even bought the labyrinth soundtrack.

    The first thing I felt when I heard the news was sadness, then it was my own mortality. I’m getting old and some of the artists I have admired are dying.

    But, the comments have been unrealistic. The most influential artist? He was a great chameleon in the 70s. I’ve felt this whole thing has been over-the-top. I’m glad we’ve taken time to recognise him as a great artist, but, I can’t help but feel that people like Mother Teresa were not shown anywhere near the respect and admiration that Bowie has. I felt she deserved more respect than was given and more respect than Bowie (please don’t take that as a request for more man bashing … honestly, just take people for what they are rather than their gender).

    Bowie was the closest thing I had to a man crush, but many of the comments in the mainstream media have been over the top.

  • This “The bottom line is that a lot of people are manufacturing sadness and loss for their own selfish reasons.” should read:

    My opinion is that a lot of people are manufacturing sadness and loss for their own selfish reasons.”

    There’s just no way to quantify it. When 9/11 happened most people had no relatives in the towers,
    And a lot of Aussies openly despise America yet there was still a massive sense of grief when it happened.

    When an icon passes it’s the end of an era, and Bowie has a body of work so expansive and unique I’m not surprised at all by the outpouring.

  • **waits for all the David whatsit profile pictures to show up from people in my stream who never actually liked Him or his music… i think that’s the point of the article

  • Thanks for being here to condescendingly tell people whether they’re allowed to feel sad about things.

  • It doesn’t bug me as much as you using “cache” when you mean “cachet” 😉

    Commenters can get away with it, but if you want to be a writer you should know words.

  • It is refreshing to read these considerations.

    In this climate of liking and sharing it seems that we are becoming dangerously conformist in our habits. The pressure to share the death of a celebrity is similar to the jingoistic pressure to sing the national anthem of whatever state you happen to reside in, whatever your opinion on that state.

    It is a pity that the internet, once an anarchic realm where individual opinions and alternative worldviews could breathe has become a land dominated by big companies like Facebook and rather simplified and herdlike activities.

    While I identify more with the First Order and the Fire Nation than Aang or Luke’s teams, I feel that in our world it is right that individual opinion should be allowed honest life in the e-universe.

    I as a matter of pronciple do not like or share what does not interest me. Bowie may well have been Jesus himself but as an atheist I won’t share the ‘Lord’ when he appears, however much respect for his life I have. The pressure to like or share a man for his grnerally accepted greatness is conforming and stupid, it makes us into silly dimwits who act on simple and not overly heartfelt or genuine emotional cues.

    But such is alas the nature of the great plebdom of mankind, who mostly go with the flow and seldom truly ask the force for guidance, but gladly yield this responsibility to corporate greed and political power.

  • These things don’t ordinarily bother me. When Princess Diana’s funeral was on, I went for a bike ride on the near-deserted streets – it was ace. But I was genuinely depressed by the death of David Bowie – I didn’t cry or anything, but it was like losing a much-loved elderly relative – someone who’d always been there in your life even if it was just in a small way. I never religiously listened to any of Bowie’s albums, but I loved some of the tracks and always enjoyed it when they were used in TV or film, like at the end of the Life Aquatic or in the BBC drama Life on Mars. I also think the reason so many shared updates about his death is that he was one of the last icons of the 1970s – an ordinary English bloke who cared more about the music than the money.

  • First thing I did was call my mother. Who was crying. I happily liked her facebook post farewelling her hero.
    Not everyone is fishing for likes, but I know where you’re coming from. How many people that posted “R.I.P. Lemmy” choked up while watching his funeral?

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