Timothy K. Morgan, who has been doing research on the uses of social media to memorialize the dead, asks and answers a provocative question: “Is using Twitter a religious act? I’m convinced it can be.”
Our research on Sandy Hook indicates that following a national tragedy, social media creates new possibilities for religious practice, allowing us to directly access firsthand accounts and to express our faith and solidarity in the face of unimaginable suffering from essentially anywhere on the globe. We found that Twitter provides us a place both to offer condolences and compassion to those who have been directly impacted and to make meaning of such events for ourselves.
For example, in the wake of Sandy Hook, the hashtag #nowords, which began as a social commentary on the ridiculousness of the Internet, took on a more solemn and profound sensibility. Indeed, many of us did not have the words to make any sense of it. ….
When we compared tweets about Newtown, we found that tweets designated as prayer used photos and graphics 50 percent more than general condolences. These included photo memorialization of the victims, photos of prayer vigils and other images filled with religious significance. Twitter and smartphones provided an unanticipated and soul-stirring alternative to conventional words of prayer, inviting us to forgo language altogether and bring the poetry of silence to our contemporary religious practices.”
How do Morgan’s conclusions square with your own experience of using social media during a time of either personal or national crisis?