A virtual tombstone is a non-physical memorial site or placeholder for the identity or social presence of a loved one who has passed away. Virtual tombstones can take the shape of a memorial website, social network page or other digital entity. The page can include space for comments, condolences, pictures and other memories.
Given that tombstones can be difficult to reach and expensive in real life, a virtual tombstone seems to fill a natural void by allowing friends and family to browse pictures, look at their accomplishments/friends, write a homage to the person, and generally reminisce without leaving their seat. It is becoming increasingly common for people to store their passwords with someone they trust so that they can effectively manage that virtual self in case they pass away.
Those who have passed away may leave profiles on social networks. Those who do not realize the person is no longer alive may leave messages for the deceased person in present tense. Sometimes visitors will write present-tense addresses to the deceased person in this public space, knowing full well that they have passed away and will not be looking at these messages. Even though a virtual memorial site may invite and encourage a great deal of interaction, some forms of interaction are not encouraged. For example, "poking" dead people is considered bad form.
NetCafe Episode 206: Grim Reaper Web Sites. A look at how web sites deal with the subject of death. Sites featured include an information site on cemeteries, a tribute to the passing of Jerry Garcia, a virtual 3D graveyard, the pop culture death pool, and a virtual pet cemetery. Originally broadcast in 1998.
- Cheng, Jacqui. Death and social media: what happens to your life online? Ars Technica. Published March 2010, Accessed June 2011. http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2010/03/death-and-social-media-what-happens-to-your-life-online.ars
- Lee, David. There's life after death if you're online. Social networking sites are having to devise policies to deal with the death of a user - and some are getting it more right than others. The Guardian. Published 7 August 2008, Accessed 30 June 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/aug/07/socialnetworking.myspace