Logging On and Letting it Out: Grieving Online

The Virginia Tech tragedy also spurred a wave of Facebook groups as well as Web sites dedicated to providing a forum to help mourn the loss of the 22 students who were killed by fellow student and shooter Seung-Hui Cho.

Virginia Tech junior Matthew Emma took it upon himself to create a memorial Web site, VTUnited.org, to deal with his grief. He was just two buildings away on the day of the shootings, and said the site gave him a way to help other students express their feelings.

"I couldn't just sit there and cry," said Emma. "That's not the Virginia Tech way."

His site has thousands of posts from people worldwide sharing their thoughts on the incident.

Security Issues

A main concern with sites that offer virtual memorials is the risk of people making pages for people who aren't really dead. But this kind of abuse is not a huge concern of these sites, all of which have mechanisms to prevent fraudulent entries.

Web sites like Legacy.com and Muchloved.com either have people whose job it is to review posts and check for accuracy or require a small credit card deposit to make it just that much more difficult to obtain a page.

"People can say very ugly things about the deceased in very nice words, so we read to make sure they don't end up on online," said Hayes Ferguson, chief operating officer of Legacy.com.

Facebook said its users report abuse quite a bit themselves, and they also have a team of employees who are constantly scouring the site for fake profiles or offensive material.

Why Grieve Online?

For many, sharing extensive emotional feelings online may seem impersonal, but many psychologists argue that the anonymity of Internet memorials is exactly what attracts people.

"Internet sites have an increased amount of control and a sense of safety and security," said Susan Sylvia, a clinical psychologist in the psychology department at St. Louis Children's Hospital. "The ability to log on and have what you need available to you emotionally is enticing."

Sylvia said Web sites and message boards allow users to control how much they share or express, rather than feeling pressured to perform during in-person therapy groups.

Karen Cutaneo, a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker in New Jersey, told ABC News that the role of technology in people's life has transformed the way people interact.

"I think [younger adults] get a lot of information off the Internet," said Cutaneo. "It's less confrontational and less intimidating to type in their grief and to communicate through their words and typing rather than verbal expression."

The Right Way to Grieve

While there is no "correct way" to grieve, therapists say that there are some ways that are better than others. They are wary of individuals who rely solely on the Internet to talk about traumatic events.

"Sometimes they'll get online looking for what is the right way to grieve and what are other people thinking feeling and doing," said Sylvia. "When it's inconsistent with what they're feeling it's confusing."

She told ABC News that many people who grieve online are unable to deal with other people's losses in addition to their own.

"The roller coaster ride of somebody else's story can be a bit overwhelming," said Sylvia." When you are grieving, hearing about other people's grief can sometimes be too much."

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