Dead but not forgotten on social media

Sunday April 5 2020


In this life, birth is a gift but death is a must. It is a bitter truth which we have to accept, whether we like it or not. Like the late Dr Remmy Ongara sung in one of his famous songs, Kifo, death has no mercy. It brings sorrow to families whose loved one has passed away. It is a painful experience, which family members go through.

To share the sad news of the passing of a loved one and to celebrate their life, some people have a tendency of uploading pictures of the deceased or posting obituaries on their (the deceased) social media accounts.

Some people use their deceased’s social media accounts to express their feelings about the deceased and how much they miss them or regret for not taking good care of them or spending enough time with them during their life time.

As time passes by and relatives of the deceased come to terms with the passing of their beloved family member, sudden notifications start popping up from their late relative’s social media accounts, reminding’ them about the deceased’s death anniversary.

While some think it is a good thing to remember the dead, others feel that such notifications bring back sad memories of losing a loved one. Charles Mtukwao’s parents are among those against the idea. They lost their son a few years ago and wish all memories their son left on his social media accounts could be deleted. After his sudden death, Charles’ facebook page was full of condolence messages. His photos were posted several times on social media by his friends and followers. Now his parents say that reading those messages every year makes them very sad.

Mwita Chacha, is among late Charles’ best friends. He says soon after his friend’s funeral, he received a call from Charles’ relatives, asking him if he could help them delete his friend’s social media accounts.


“Charles’ uncle called and asked me if I could help them delete Charles’ social media accounts. He said the posts concerning their late son were distressing as they reminded the family of his passing. Charles was a well known person and due to his charismatic character, many people keep writing on his social media accounts till today,” explains Chacha

Charles’parents too shares similar views with his uncle. They feel that it is not okay to upload dead people’s photos or stories about them on social media and especially on their (the dead) own accounts.

The late Charles’ widow on the other hand has opposing views from that of her in-laws. Charles’ wife, Mariam John, is okay with having her husband’s social media accounts active. She wishes the accounts would remain active forever as it gives her reason to remember her late husband by visiting his online pages, looking at the photos and writing words to express her feelings for him whenever she misses him.

“My in-laws asked me if I knew how to delete Charles’ facebook account. They said they cannot stand the sad memories of losing him that the active accounts bring,” notes Mariam.

A Masters Degree student in Actuarial Science at University of Southampton, Salvatory Kessy says in digital world the dead have no right to be forgotten because some of them have left a legacy in people’s lives. On social media it is where people show their sympathy and some opt to write tributes to express their feelings.

“Through social media one may write obituaries about people who made an impact in their lives. The person can be your close relative or a friend or even a distant person but who has touched your life. For example people like Ali Mafuruki, Reginald Mengi, Ruge Mutahaba, Kobe Bryant and many others whose lives touched many people’s lives. They were inspirational to many people out there,” he says.

Salvatory says, even without social media, people will always remember them for their legacy. And this legacy can mean that if you as an individual want to achieve as much as say Ali Mufuruki did, then he will always live in your heart.

“So, I think it’s okay to remember or get reminders about those key people who you believe are important to your lives even when they die. Because, their ideas, and philosophy will always live. For example, people talk about Mwalimu Nyerere in Tanzania every day, it is because of his legacy,” he adds.

An inspirational speaker, Magreth Mushi, is against uploading stories and photos of the dead on social media. She says a dead person does not see who has uploaded their photos or written on their facebook wall. Although most people upload pictures to notify the public that someone has passed away, Magreth thinks it’s illogical since the dead can’t understand that. She is of the opinion that once a person dies, they should be let to rest in peace.

“Most of the time social media reminds you of the dead’s demise after a year. It brings back tears to the people concerned. I think we should let the dead rest and move on with life,” she says.

Selina Condrady, a quantity surveyor sees no problem remembering the dead in that way, though she says there are so many other ways of remembering them like praying for them.

She says most of us remember them for the good things they did in the society. Giving her own example, Selina says her late father used to give so much to the society and that people around him loved him so much.

“It was very painful in the early years but as time went by, the pain of losing him subsided although people around me keep remembering him and this makes me post about him on my facebook wall,” she notes.

For Alex Ruhega who is a teacher the issue here isn’t about whether it is right or wrong. For him, the question is why the culture is trending. While those who post things about the dead have reasons to do so, Alex wonders whether those reasons are good enough for the grieving relatives? What about family members who will come later?

“One should do a lot of thinking before doing so. Whether it serves the purpose or not, one cannot tell because there have been no studies about that. In short, this is still an unexplained development. The only problem I see is that those who post the dead take it for emotions and aim to elicit condolences,” he adds

Alex continues, “Sometimes it is done either for solidarity or reminding others that this was a friend, a relative or any other closeness. It is a culture of showing off with the dead’s history, status or grandstanding. Or boasting of having had a good parent, brother, sister etc. It is confusing and mainly serves no specific purpose,”

Sharing his views, a pastor from Kings Church in Arusha, Dennis Lyimo admits that the question of whether writing of the obituary or uploading the deceased photos on social media is okay or not must have several answers, which covers both facets due to the following reasons.

Taking an account of a son who received the notification of his late mother’s obituary, which he wrote on facebook a year ago, after being shot by a police officer but without sufficient reasonable information would bring about sad memories.

“Every time this boy receives the notification of the obituary, he will get hurt, angry and create a longing for his mother’s revenge, which is contrary to a person who receives the obituary of their mother who died fighting for their (child’s) right and died in the process.”

Every time this son receives the notification of his mother’s obituary, he will be encouraged to live in a way that will protect the value that his mother fought for and he will be motivated to enhance the legacy that his mother left.

“I believe it’s not more or less the about the memories when you get the notification of the picture posted or obituary written in previous years on social media, because there are so many attachments whether physical, emotional or even spiritual that can play a role of reminding you even without social media involvement.

But instead we need to allow the positive values, ideologies, wisdom and beliefs affect our lives beyond emotional discontentedness and pain so that we don’t remain alive but live and positively impact our world.”

Jeremiah Mtobesya, an advocate of the High Court of Tanzania, a trainer and legal consultant says there is no law prohibiting writing about the dead, provided you do not write stuff that will defame them in the course. If you do so, then you will be contravening the provisions of the Media Services Act which prohibits defaming the dead.

“There is no law that prohibits writing about the dead in the social media, but one should be very careful not to include something which is offensive in his post. This is because any information that is prohibited is under section 12 of the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations.

Another advocate, Paul Mpazi from Pratt and Witney Associates in Arusha believes it is fine to post about the dead, since their close family and friends don’t actually remember them but the places they had in their lives.

“The impact that they made during their life time. So we don’t actually remember them but their legend. However, since most of them did create a mark to those who were around them, then some of what they did can be irrelevant to others who knew them less,” he adds.

Mpazi believes it is only wise to circle a memory only in relevant places. However, as it is said “mourn with those who mourn.”

“I also believe it is just prudent to bear with what our friends think, believe or feel, that is memories that they wish to keep in their life as long as they live,” he notes.