Expert explains social media's positive and negative impact for - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Expert explains social media's positive and negative impact for grieving friends and families

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Eau Claire (WQOW) - Social media can touch almost every part of daily life, but an Eau Claire expert said for those who lost a loved one, social media could prolong the grieving process. 

The question of social media's impact came about after News 18 met with Janna Cobb's parents. Janna took her own life in May, and News 18 shared her story to highlight the need for mental health resources. While at a meeting with other parents concerned about the mental health of their children, Janna's family said even over a month after her death, Janna's friends are still reaching out to her online.

"Her phone goes off 24 hours a day," Janna's mother Debbra Cobb said. "People messaging her. They will still Snapchat her goofy pictures and say, "I just wish you would send me one back." Their grief is a lot."

Other parents in the room were concerned about social media's constant reminder of terrible events that happened. Dr. Justin Patchin, a professor at UW-Eau Claire, is a renown cyberbullying expert, but said even positive social media memories could extend the grieving process. He said for adolescents, their online lives are another part of their daily activities. 

"It is great to look at the memories that you had with somebody," Patchin said. "It can be therapeutic for some in the grieving process, but that can pose problems too because you can rehash those memories and the pain associated with someone's death."

Patchin said it is important for parents, family, and friends to understand when an online search can make themselves feel hurt. 

"I think it is important for anybody who is grieving the loss of a friend or a child to recognize when they become obsessed with looking at things online," Patchin said. "Perhaps this is something that a counselor or a therapist of some kind can assist with. It is a difficult balance for sure."

Patchin said like many aspects of social media, this is a new issue that experts do not have all the answers to yet, but he recommended reaching out for help if people find themselves overwhelmed in emotions. Patchin also called on social media companies to create tools so families who lost loved ones could archive their online accounts, and if need be, prevent people from posting on those pages if it creates too much hurt. Patchin said some have even taken to technology to continue harassing, humiliating, or harming those who have died, setting up fake profiles or stealing their identities to post on their behalf. 

Patchin said social media could also be soothing for friends and family because they can connect with people online who have shared similar experience and can help them through the grieving process no matter where they live. 

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