“The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

With an exception of worldwide tragedies, biological death is a rare topic for a personal newsfeed. For many of us, death is located outside of what we associate with social networks. However, there is a group of people based on vk.com, a Russian social networking service, whose interest lies within this field. And by exploring their community “Дэд пейдж” (Dead Page), we get the chance to learn more on how people behave while coming across death of those around them, and how they express their complex feelings in a digital form. By doing that we can make observations on how our moral compass operates during tragic events.

For the most part, pages of dead people provide no fresh content for visitors. However, “Дэд пейдж” community thoroughly examine these pages from top to bottom in search of information on the deceased’s life and ironic content. It is always spotted if a victim of a motorbike accident was posting photos of their motorcycle non-stop, or if drug overdosed were extremely open about their illegal activities on their public profiles. Occasionally, it is possible to find digital suicide notes in form of “final” wall posts. The content of those dead letters is, for the most part, similar to what we’d expect to find in a hand-written note, and, unfortunately for us, receive almost no comments from the page owner’s friends. However, every once in a while you can come across pages filled with posts and comments from the owners’ acquaintances.

These mourners often express their feelings publicly, while their messages are targeted directly to the “soul” of their beloved ones. The way they talk about the dead – using public messages instead of private ones – might confuse those who are familiar with social networks. Grammar and spelling of their messages is usually poor, and punctuation is often either lacking, or exaggerated. Their posts, filled with sad and crying emojis, tend to be presented in a way that is the most accessible for the general public. Page visitors mourn their loss and by focusing on positive notes they claim to cherish their lost friends. There are usually no mentions of the specifics, and no personal or intimate information is given. Better yet, some commenters claim to have little to no personal experience with those who they are referring to.

While the emotional state and the will to express it in a symbolic way is understandable, such actions cannot go unquestioned. Why don’t these mourners use private messages for their modernised ritual? Why are there so many posts written practically from strangers? Is there anything behind their intentions?

We all tend to view ourselves as morally superior to others, or at least compared to the majority of people. Even a nihilistic rebellious teenager that glorifies his moral marginalisation is claiming the moral high ground. Not to mention, intentionally toxic behavior is almost forbidden in civilised society, which is especially true for the dogmatic and even somewhat archaic Russian culture. And while “morally poor” individuals are exhibited for their wrongdoings and criticised, the other side of the spectrum gets no negative attention from the mainstream media. Today “white knights” and “humble darlings” operate with the total support from the general public. In the context of death, self-renounced saints get an even better free path, since Russians are still very careful with what they are allowed to say on this “sacred” topic.

Dead page

So, the soil for social manipulations is extremely wet and ready to use, it just requires a special approach. How easy is it to show your respect for traditions and heart-warming purity if all you have to do is write a short post with a black & white picture of the tragic star of the day? Apparently, not easy enough for some, since you can often spot posts that were generated by special “digital gift card” apps with promotional heading, notifying you that this basic, easy-to-google picture of a lit candle was provided to you by the rich catalog of “positive gift cards” or “ready-to-use surprise notes for your VK friends.”

It seems that mourners care more about the act itself, rather than the values they claim to protect and cherish. So, if the act is more important, can we claim that the lack of privacy is intentional? After all, it is so pleasurable to present yourself as a follower of valued beliefs, especially when your name and profile picture is automatically attached to all of your words. Sadly enough, it seems that the duality in general public’s thinking is still limiting it’s darker side, the presence of which is unavoidable. As the saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” The moral code that is floating around is so backwards, it requires an impressive skill not to fall into one of the presented extremes. 

Illustrations by Stanislav Press

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by our contributors do not necessarily represent the stance of the Lennon Wall staff or Anglo American University.