Has Social Media Changed the Way We Mourn?


I don’t do funerals. I’m an extremely private person. When someone passes, I become quiet, distant, and somewhat dogmatic. We can’t control death. Nothing more can be said to them now. The best I can do is pray for their loved ones left behind.

Until recently, death never affected my use of social media. Celebrities die… bummer. My friends post about the death of family or pets… I usually post words of support. And when my family stream my cousin’s funeral… I didn’t express my dislike for sharing something so personal on such a public channel.

And then Kobe Bryant died. The instant my husband told me, I knew the outpouring on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram would be akin to a global online funeral. For a second I thought about adding my condolences, and then stopped. I turned away from my phone and refuse to pick it up the rest of the day.

His Death Hit Me Like No Other

I didn’t know Kobe Bryant personally. I’m not a hardcore NBA fan like my husband. I followed Kobe’s personal and professional life with a journalistic interest no different than I followed the likes of Steve Nash, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Dirk Nowitzki, and James Harden. But unlike the others, I had a reason outside of basketball to focus on Kobe. As a cops and court reporter, I was tasked with following Kobe’s 14-month sexual assault case in 2003. I remember thinking how difficult it would be to decide an outcome in a he-said/she-said situation. I looked for any signs of guilt as Kobe played those 14-months while simultaneously questioning the honesty of the plaintiff. I’d seen a lot of crazy telenovela merdre go down in the Hood, and knew some women were not beyond making up stuff if it meant cashing in on misfortune. They were both equally guilty in my mind for getting themselves in a stupid situation. When they settled out of court, I remember being indifferent about the whole thing.

After his settlement, I watched more NBA games with my husband. I’ve never been a Lakers fan despite home Hood, and my husband deemed them the Yankees of the NBA. A Lakers game didn’t go by without my husband saying something about Kobe. He was a ball hog. He wasn’t a team player. He was arrogant on the court. He whined too much to the refs. Kobe wasn’t the only NBA player to get these criticisms and the Lakers weren’t the only team to receive his disdain. They were simply one of the most televised teams. That said, the day Kobe died, even my husband sounded remorseful.

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

The next morning, before I got on social media, I had a good idea how my channels would go down. Twitter would be all my Latino LA family and the NBA feeds. Instagram would be all my NBA loving friends from the rest of the world. And Facebook would be all my non-NBA friends, mostly white female feminist, who would dig on his sexual assault case. Sure enough that’s how it played out.

I opened Twitter to my cousin’s initial post about Kobe’s death and prayers for his family followed by Mark Cuban’s announcement that they were retiring the #24 jersey despite the fact Kobe was never played for Dallas. I scrolled through all the emotional outpouring, prayers, and disbelief. I did not tweet myself. I moved on to Instagram to read my NBA friends posting videos, usually one of two, of Kobe and his daughter Gianna. I liked most of them, but again posted nothing of my own. Now onto Facebook. This I opened with a large sigh. I did not have to go long before I saw a post talking about how the news media was trying to hide Kobe’s sexual assault case in 2003. I responded that no one in the media world was trying to hide this case. And that it received massive media coverage when it happened. I withheld pointing out that my friend was around 3-years-old when the court case happened and wouldn’t remember the 14 months of updates. Someone else commented on it. She nailed into him that she had every right to post about a “rapist”. I didn’t respond immediately. I actually waited 24 hours, in which I talked to other female NBA fans and female news reporters to get their thoughts. Most women described the sexual assault case as “shady”. One woman went as far as to call the plantiff “a gold digger”. At that point, I reminded my friend that the court case had been settled out of court meaning we don’t know what really happened. She didn’t respond.

Other than a handful of negative interactions, I am surprised that a majority of the posts have been so positive, and the diversity of people is just as amazing. Not just my family, friends, and colleagues I’ve talked with about Kobe, but strangers–people I have never met and will probably never have another conversation. Stories I would have never heard if I had to go to a physical location. And yes, the criticisms of his past. Some people say you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead; however, we are able to humanize the deceased more when we do. It’s happen at Real World funerals and wake since the dawn of time. All of this is only possible because of social media. And maybe those who say Kobe’s death united people in a way that hasn’t been possible given the recent political and generation upheaval are right. If so, maybe we can take comfort that the Universe had a plan in the taking in his life, Gianna, and the others with them.


Leave a Comment