On Saturday November 30, actor Paul Walker died in a solo car crash in Los Angeles. He was 40 years old. I didn’t know Walker personally or anything, but I’d seen him in “Varsity Blues” and a few of “The Fast and the Furious” movies and he seemed like a good actor and a nice guy. His premature death made me sad for his family and friends, but also illuminated the strange issues that arise when we try to address death on the internet.
Like so many other things, I found out the news from Facebook. Someone posted an “R.I.P. Paul Walker” status and so I googled his name and recognized him from a few movies. I went on Buzzfeed which had posted a story that linked me to a bunch sad Tweets. On Tumblr there were sets of gifs from “The Fast and the Furious” movies commemorating the actor and there were already a few photos of Walker on my Instagram feed.
As far as breaking news like deaths, accidents and the like, the Internet is invaluable. Twitter, Facebook and other similar social networks can speedily inform wide audiences and then create rapid-react discussions where anyone can put in their two cents. Eventually people check television or more traditional news sources’ websites for confirmation, but I’ve heard about almost all moments of crisis or notable deaths first via a Tweet or Facebook status. Even though it’s easy to spread misinformation of the Internet, generally the web is a useful tool for informing lots of people fast.
However, when someone dies, posting about it on the Internet can become a bit more complicated. Can a 140 character tweet properly eulogize someone? The New York Times has an entire section dedicated to in-depth obituaries, and even then these obits sometimes seem a little sparse. Are Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr — generally places for humor or anger on the Internet– the right outlets for such sad sentiment?
My initial thought was no, but then I saw this Instagram photo posted by “The Fast and the Furious” costar Tyrese Gibson. It nearly brought me to tears. In fact, Gibson’s whole Twitter feed for the past few days has been incredibly poignant. While I’ve seen plenty of Tweets and posts about Walker that probably only mention him because his name was trending on Twitter, there have also been a variety of heartfelt Tweets from friends and fans alike that are legitimately pretty touching.
So I suppose a Tweet is, like most things, as heartfelt as you make it. Sometimes these brief tributes are powerful, and sometimes they seem insincere.
Another weird side note on grieving in the internet age: what happens to Paul Walker’s Twitter now that he has passed away? It’s obviously one of the least pressing concerns regarding the whole incident but it adds to a creepy oddity of people continuing to have a presence on the Internet even after death, although a publicist or someone close to Walker appears to have known his Twitter password before the incident and has Tweeted several times since Walker’s death about his death.
While it’s unclear whether he actually posted it, Walker’s last Tweet (a pretty mundane promo for the new “The Fast and the Furious” movie) before his death still remains strangely haunting, like many of these other dead celebrities’ last Tweets. Whether what they typed was routine or ominous, being able to pinpoint someone’s last online interaction feels uncomfortable. Regardless, rest in peace.