Profiles Left Behind

Tragedy struck the town of Chapel Hill last night. Three people were shot and killed in a neighborhood near UNC. Police are still investigating the cause behind the triple homicide of three Muslim young people —  Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. Right now, police are saying it could have been over a parking dispute at Finley Forest Condominiums, but that they are still investigating the possibility of a “hate-motivated” attack.

My professor, John Robinson, talks here about how word of the event spread in our news ecosystem yesterday and today. It’s obvious that social media is an integral part of how we share and receive information. More broadly, it’s an integral part of how we live. It’s changing our social norms.

This hit me hard today as I scrolled through my Twitter timeline, and through a retweet ended up on the Twitter of Deah Barakat, one of the three who needlessly lost his life last night. Some of his tweets had thousands of favorites and retweets. I scrolled through many of them. About Carolina basketball. About losing a legend in Dean Smith earlier this week. About being thankful for everything he had. About the pointlessness of hatred and killing between Jews and Palestinians.

They were powerful in more ways than one. They were like little bits of him put in concrete. I’m sure for those who knew and loved Deah, that would be special. They were also so human. We have a way of avoiding the thought that each of us will eventually die. But his tweets made me face how similar he was to me. How similar he was to me and that he was gone, like I will be.

Having such a public way to look at the lives of people who are no longer with us is something new, that will eventually be a social norm, that I think deserves a conversation.

I think sharing Deah’s thoughts is a way to honor him and who he was. There was a fundraising site being shared on Twitter that he started, dedicated to giving dental care to Syrian refugees in Turkey. His goal was to raise $20,000. The last time I checked, the total was at $119,986. That’s powerful. His good deeds, although he is not with us, can live on and can spread.

However, there was something haunting about scrolling through his Twitter feed. Something stopped me from retweeting his personal tweets. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was — maybe it was that I didn’t know him while he was alive, maybe it was a moment of feeling out of place sharing a personal thought from someone who was no longer alive.

I don’t know if anyone else understands my hesitation. But I think the future of where the social media profiles of the dead will end up is important and quite interesting.

Will they just be left untouched forever? Will there be some sort of deactivation? Will there be an indication on the profiles of those who have passed away?

How should we honor and respect the online footprints left behind?


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