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When death came to LinkedIn

To be a serious professional these days, you have to check LinkedIn at least twice an hour. Every good blog post starts with a fact, and that’s mine.

Usually you can expect that in the course of those checks you’ll find out that an old colleague has moved jobs, your school friend has discovered the benefits of DLT and a 3rd-level connection you don’t know at all swears by a run in the morning before work. Tooting your own horn, humblebragging and crypto evangelism: what else is a professional networking platform for?

But recently, I keep seeing jarring and unsettling posts about death and life-threatening illness in my feed. It is mainly non-work-related death, which warrants mention considering it is a social media site about work. People are posting about partners, friends, parents, pets and children struck down by cancer, fatal accidents, degenerative diseases and suicide. At one point it was so noticeably frequent that I started writing down the gist of the posts I saw, and I recorded 22 over the course of about two months. Here’s a representative sample:

  • My baby died
  • My son committed suicide six years ago today
  • I have stage 4 cancer
  • My niece was murdered last week
  • My child is in hospital with Covid (picture of unconscious child on hospital bed included)
  • My disabled daughter died two weeks ago and two days ago my dog died

That means on average I was reminded of the bleak side of life every three days while checking LinkedIn – although in reality it comes in bursts. On a single Thursday I read about somebody’s beloved foster father having died of brain cancer, somebody remembering their 8-year-old son on the 10th anniversary of his death and somebody’s wife’s heart condition having acted up. I say ‘somebody’ because the death posts I see are largely by people I don’t know.

I’ll be honest: I don’t want to see these posts. They make me sad and are sometimes difficult to forget, especially the ones with images of children.

I have wondered about how other LinkedIn users feel about this. I expect there is a spectrum of views and at the opposite end to me there is someone who uses the ‘support’ emoji to react to every death post, comments with words of sympathy and encouragement and clicks on the link to donate to a cause. Perhaps the altruistas are even in the majority, given how much engagement the death posts generate.

But more than that I wondered about why people want to put these deeply personal events on LinkedIn where they often spread to scores of strangers. What they say is their motivation is the surface-level answer – they want to raise awareness, remind everyone to hug their loved ones before it’s too late or, apparently, thank their employers for being accommodating. What else is going on under the surface? Can there be such a thing as deathbragging? ‘Griefing’? Mortalitycore? Is it a form of virtue-signalling? Or just seeking attention?

Here is my theory. I don’t think it’s the latest way to get recruiters to notice you – I think it’s more sincere and more universally relatable than that. It’s just professional people, who are more likely than average to be living away from their families, emerging from two years of heightened isolation looking for that most basic of human needs, community support, encouraged by the ‘bring your whole self to work’ trend, on the one social media platform where trolling is almost non-existent. Did I leave anything out?

We instinctively feel that a death in the family should be accompanied by shared rituals with others around us who knew them. There should be mentions in church, obituaries in the local paper, knocks on the door, wearing black, formal and informal gatherings and continued rites of remembrance such as saying mass on anniversaries.

But I suspect these days for big-city-dwelling, irreligious middle-class professionals a funeral is about the extent of in-person, shared ritual to mark the event. To remember that the species-typical operating model when someone dies is largely not there for them is to understand the appeal of broadcasting to millions the face of the person who mattered so much to you.

Given all this I’m bracing myself for continued death and devastation on LinkedIn for the foreseeable future. I still think it’s misguided – both to protect themselves and to avoid imposing on others, people should at least restrict the audience to 1st-level connections.

But I would also like to try to strengthen the sense of community where I am physically, with neighbours and colleagues. It will be a very long time before humans lose the need for social cohesion and support (never, I hope) and that is a lot of LinkedIn posts I don’t want to see…


  1. Melissa Corkhill Melissa Corkhill 16 February 2023

    Well said! I agree wholeheartedly

    • Meri Meri 17 February 2023

      Thanks, Melissa!

  2. Charles Mo Charles Mo 27 February 2023

    Wonderful blog Meri, only just discovered it.

    Is the term “social media” still accurate? I remember years ago, we referred to our ‘friends/connections’ on these platforms as people ‘we know, but don’t know’, but as we spend more time on these platforms, they become important communities where we share personal experiences, even taboo ones like death. We often know these people more deeply than our real neighbours.

    As we all invest more of our time to curate and manage our ‘social media’ connections. There lies my question, isn’t this term ‘social media’ out of date, it is really a community of people we kinda value now – its our ‘digital community’.

    • Meri Meri 27 February 2023

      Yeah, possibly, Charles – you can enjoy a lot of aspects of community life online and it should maybe be referred to as digital communities rather than social media. I land on the side of online communities being a supplement to rather than the main source of filling your social bucket, though; I think there are larger rewards both for the individual and the group. Because there is so much more skin in the game in offline social interaction, it both reinforces the risks and rewards – for example, there’s a higher threshold for being rude to someone in ‘real’ life, and anecdotally at least in-person gatherings are more intense and enjoyable.

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