Stories

Our social networks live on after we die

Anthony Walker / U.S. Army Photo

Posting photos on Facebook for our friends and colleagues might not be a waste of time, as a new study shows our social networks appear to stay intact even after we die.

Why it matters: The study is the first-ever large-scale effort to look at the resilience of a person's social network — online or off — after his or her death. The researchers found increased interactions after someone died of cancer or an accident and less frequent communication after suicide or other causes that have stigma attached to them.

Our thought bubble: How does posting about or tagging someone in a photo translate into support? Can our online relationships be relied on in real life — and does that even matter?

Methodology: Researchers looked at 15,000 anonymized Facebook networks involving 770,000 people to see how resilient human social structures were after the person at the center of them died. They found friends of the deceased not only stayed engaged, they actually increased their ties to each other afterwards, often for years. Close friends interacted 30% more than usual in the month after a mutual friend's death. Their contact waned after that month but even 2 years later they were interacting about 3% more when compared to networks of friends who hadn't suffered a loss.

Interesting detail: 18-24 year olds increased their social network interactions most after a death of a mutual friend or colleague.