Have you ever seen a funeral live on social media?

By Sunil K. Vaidya

Recently, I was surprised to see a ‘live’ funeral being broadcast on Facebook.

Seing that post, in a way, took me back in time. When we were young, every day we would meet at a naka (street corner in Mumbai lingo). It was the routine and the naka was our local grapevine. We would exchange news and views about everything under the sun. At the naka, we talked about which building had caught fire, where burglars had struck, heard the buzz around elections, movie releases, how a batsman had batted (we spent more time discussing cricket than anything else). We talked about everything, from mob beatings of gold chain snatchers (a big menace then), to births, birthdays, marriages, as well as break-ups and deaths.

I thought of this last week when I saw a ‘live’ funeral on my feed. It occurred to me that since local street corners and nakas have shrunk, our naka has evolved into the social media platform. Things have come to such a pass that the information of so and so’s passing was being relayed in real time, and for the benefit of people no longer lined on street corners, but tuned into the proceedings nonetheless, virtually.

Back in the day, one attended funerals of people you knew somewhat: relatives, friends, neighbours, someone from the building. We would stand by the side of a street, to pay respects, when an unknown person’s funeral procession passed by. I wonder if that has changed.

I have been on social media since 2004. But I have never come across a ‘live funeral’ — except for when a film star or a politician dies. I am aware and have no reservations about live streaming funerals on Skype to connect relatives in far off places who couldn’t make it back home for the last rites, but this was a first for me, to see a common man’s funeral live on a Facebook group. Over 1,200 people viewed it. Shockingly, over 30 people even ‘liked’ it.

My inquisitiveness steered me to the FB search engine to find similar ‘lives’. I found several for funeral services at churches but I could not locate live funerals of other faiths. While I was trying to satiate my curiosity about such live posts, a FB friend’s post popped up — announcing another live broadcast, this one of his father-in-law’s funeral! A day after the announcement, the funeral service at a church and burial were broadcast live on FB. Again, there were people ‘liking’ the funeral.

So far, what I have mentioned is about south Asian FB users, particularly in the Indian sub-continent; 270 million Indians are connected to FB.

There are instances of live funeral services in the US as well as Europe. An American digital media, Refinery29, carried a survey by the UK-based insurance company Royal London that found one-third of adults between the ages of 18 and 34 would have no problem ‘attending’ a ceremony virtually, compared with just 23 percent of those between the ages of 35 and 54.

At the same time, 40 percent of those surveyed said they did not believe livestreaming a funeral would capture the emotions and sentiment of being there in person, while 54 percent said it would be insensitive or morbid. About 27 percent said they would not be able to grieve or process their grief in the same way.

If the funeral live post knocked me for a six, another post, by a doctor friend took the use of social media to another level. He posted his patient’s case history on FB (minus patient’s name and photo), seeking opinions on the diagnoses and subsequent line of treatment. Promptly, his peers gave their opinions in the comments section. I went through the images of patient’s X-ray, echo report and cardiogram to see if the patient’s identity was revealed. Except indicating the profession of his patient — so his peers could link occupation to his illness — his identity remained under wraps.

With 2.23 billion monthly active FB users, and multiplying, if this is not an indication of how social media is going ‘next level’, I don’t know what is.

Today, for me, a daily routine is to log on to my virtual naka and wish my friends on their birthday. I like that FB helps spread happiness, among loads of other things, but who wants to see funerals live? I would rather wish someone ‘Happy Birthday’.


Sunil is passionate about photography, theatre, and social media — which he has been following now for 13 years

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