Physically distanced yet digitally connected: A scoping review and thematic analysis on grief, social media, and COVID-19

Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Thanatechnology is a budding field that explores the nexus of technology within grieving rituals and experiences. Previous research indicates that social media has become part of our everyday communication, and has expanded to our grieving rituals. However, the pandemic acted as a catalyst to adapt the tools we had to cope with loss. This thesis comprised two studies to understand grief communication in digital spaces. In the first study, we conducted a scoping review to grasp what has already been reported on grieving on social media. We extracted 47 peer-reviewed articles based on our inclusion criteria. We were able to identify different domains of information including platform characteristics, the types of users, the transformation of the griever’s relationship to the deceased, community interactions, and functionalities of social media connection. Grieving online can provide a connection to other grievers and maintain a connection with loved ones. The scoping review created a foundation of knowledge in digital grieving prior to the pandemic. We then conducted a second study, a reflexive thematic analysis using naturally occurring data to understand the griever’s experiences during the pandemic. Five discussion threads were extracted from a grieving community on Reddit who lost someone because of the COVID-19 virus. We identified that users discussed the COVID-19 virus as an anthropomorphized “Evil Monster” that took away their loved ones. Other themes identified included unfairness from pandemic loss and restrictions, encountering losses despite extensive safety precautions, understanding of unique pain from COVID-19 loss, sharing the grieving experience online, and finding compassion with other members. This research provides a historic snapshot of the grief experience during the pandemic as our communication shifted. The results of this study are timely in relation to the introduction of artificial intelligence and allude to future directions for thanatechnology studies. Lastly, the ethical responsibility of using social media for data collection is addressed.
Grief, Pandemic, COVID-19, Social Media, Thanatechnology
Sohal, P. R. (2023). Physically distanced yet digitally connected: a scoping review and thematic analysis on grief, social media, and COVID-19 (Master's thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from