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Young People and Digital Grief Etiquette


[5] Abidin, Crystal. (under review). “Grief hype-jacking: Influencers, Attention Economies, and the Commodification of Grief.”

[abstract forthcoming]

[4] Abidin, Crystal. 2018. “Young people and digital grief etiquette.” Pp. 160-174 in A Networked Self: Birth, Life, Death, edited by Zizi Papacharissi. London and New York: Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/9781315202129-10 <Chapter | pdf | Book>

“In the aftermath after my younger sister passed away in May 2016, I did two things. As an older sister figure among her social circles, I was compelled by an ethics of care to meet up with her close friends to talk through their grief and to solidify our newly formed friendships via shared trauma. As a digital anthropologist who has been studying young people’s self-curation practices, I turned to the critical lens of ethnography to make sense of how digital technology was impacting young people’s experience with grief. While it is tempting to claim altruism and assert that I wanted to channel the most grievous event of my life so far into productive aims to help young people, the honest confession is that turning my grief into a scholarly research project became a comforting coping mechanism. The critical distance, sincere engagement, and intimate vocabulary of ethnography was second nature to me, and employed as a cushion to approach my pain in my own time, a lens to understand my messy entanglements with hoarding digital materialities that belonged to my sister, and a distraction and excuse to return to work and busy myself away from depression. But as I penned more and more heartfelt confessions of grief on my public blog to get through the difficult lulls in the dead of the night, these words began circulating highly and going viral among small or specific grief communities online. When the unsolicited letters of comfort and vignettes of personal grief past and present started to accumulate in my several inboxes, I decided to embark on a formal research project among young people in Singapore, beyond merely my social circles, to study constructions of digital grief etiquette.”

[3] Abidin, Crystal. 2016. “Every Place at Once.” Real Life, 17 November 2016. <Link | Re-feature>

“I am sitting at a memorial service in a church snug in the east end of Singapore. The master of ceremony goes up to the pulpit. He tells us that we will begin with a time of worship. “These were some of her favorite songs,” he says. A screen rolls down. The lights dim. A video plays. She appears, strumming a mellow song on guitar on that very stage just a few Sundays ago. She was only 23. There she is, cold and silent, lying in the coffin. There she is, warm and tangible, singing onscreen. There she is, my sister, in two places at once.”

[2] Abidin, Crystal. 2016. “Young People and Grief in Digital Spaces.” Edgeryders, 11 October 2016. <Link>

“Where do young people go to when they grief? Do they cry alone in their bedrooms? Do they logon to the internet? How do young people in grief find each other? Do they phone a friend? Do they enter a counselling centre? Do they search through hashtags and websites? Death has never been more public than in the age of the internet. Alongside waves of #RIP[insertcelebrity] tributes and #[nameofvictim] police shooting activism proliferating on social media are viral posts of everyday people approaching grief and documenting their experience on the internet: recounting a person’s final days, parting words and gratitude from the deathbed, captures of assisted suicide and “right to die parties”, and families commemorating the deceased. These experiences of death and loss have been augmented and prolonged with the growth of social media use. More specifically, the ways in which a social media platform is structured and the dominant culture of its users has allowed people in grief to process their loss in innovative ways – new spaces of affect are created, new paralanguage vocabularies are innovated, and new transient networks of care are formulated.”

[1] Abidin, Crystal. 2016. “Grief hype-jacking and Saturation fatigue.” Cyborgology, 12 September 2016. <Link>

“A terror attack takes place. A large protest breaks out. A natural disaster occurs. A prominent public figure dies. In the earliest minutes, while news networks are scrambling to give the event a name, vernacular users on Instagram offer a flurry of hashtagged tributes with text post prayers, stock photography, and artful homages. Soon, a primary hashtag and emblem for the event emerges: The yellow umbrella for #OccupyCentral, the Monumen Nasional for #KamiTidakTakut, the Eiffel Tower for #PorteOuverte, silhouettes of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew for #PrayForLKY. Yet, alongside these consolations are Instagram users who attempt to appropriate the attention current of these trending channels for self-publicity, flooding dedicated hashtags with scarcely relevant selfies, outfit of the day shots, wares for sale, and redirected links. How do we make sense of this?”



[8] Abidin, Crystal. 2016. “Instagram reacts to the Brussels attacks.”, 22 March 2016. <Link>

[7] Abidin, Crystal. 2016. “The First Hour Post-#JakartaBlasts on Instagram.”, 14 January 2016. <Link>

[6] Abidin, Crystal. 2015. “Quick thoughts on #SanBernardino on Instagram.”, 3 December 2015. <Link>

[5] Abidin, Crystal. 2015. “#PorteOuverte, Instagram algorithms, and Emergent tropes.”, 14 November 2015. <Link>

[4] Abidin, Crystal. 2015. “Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the spectacle of death: The first twelve hours on social media.”, 23 March 2015. <Link>

[3] Abidin, Crystal. 2015. “#JeSuisAhmed speaks back to #JeSuisCharlie on Instagram.”, 9 January 2015. <Link>

[2] Abidin, Crystal. 2015. “Memetic Tropes on #CharlieHedbo on Instagram.”, 9 January 2015. <Link>

[1] Abidin, Crystal. 2014. “The Anatomy of a Social Media(ted) Protest: #OccupyCentral on Instagram.”, 30 September 2014. <Link>



Housekeeping transient intimacies, 24 October 2017.

Auto-replies: What you read vs. What I mean, 28 June 2017.

Reprogramming my body out of grief, 20 April 2017.

Grammar, 30 October 2016.

Grief and deep-liking on Facebook, 31 August 2016.

Grief and the “distance” of decluttering, 25 July 2016.

What holding space really looks like, 25 May 2016.

Have yourself a merry little christmas;, 23 May 2016.

Processing grief, in five chapters, 8 May 2016.

0146hrs Tuesday in ten Tweets, 3 May 2016.

On the value of public grieving, in 22 Tweets, 14 January 2016.

Writing about reading about writing about death, 25 November 2015.

Translations, care, and paralanguages, 11 October 2015.

Grief, words, and heart medicine, 5 October 2015.

Better static than stasis, 11 June 2015.

Auto-pilot grief, 22 January 2015.


This page was last updated on 24 July 2019.

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