Emoticons as expressions of grief in fatal shootings

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I’ve recently been reading a Facebook post about a fatal shooting – and please understand if I don’t give much more detail than that or post any screenshots in this instance. In instances of fatal accidents or crime, I’ve in the past observed a long strand of comments, people typically posting RIP, standing for Rest in Peace.

In this instance though, they were more varied in their comments, often putting more thought into it, with longer comments, but also adding one or a number of emoticon images in a string to somehow illustrate their grief: a broken heart, a crying face, a face with a halo, etc. This is the first time I’ve noticed it.

I’d imagine there are two reasons this has happened. Sometimes I wonder whether the actions of readers participating on a FB space set the agenda for how others behave, setting the norms. But John Postill talks about “field arenas” as a zoomed in version of this, where a post and its interactions (comments, likes, emoticons, etc) can be contained – so maybe the first person in this post to use an emoticon in their comment sets this out as an acceptable way to respond. Many readers don’t often read others’ comments, but here they might have noticed the emoticons in passing, and considered how they might use them in a similar way, when they to date had only used them in other platforms? Just a theory obviously but certainly plausible.

Another factor is the increasing array of emoticons available to us, beyond the initial smiley face. As we grapple with how they are useful, we exercise them, try them out in new ways to see what we can express, and also register how they might be read by others. I’m not sure how often I’ll see such emoticons being used in the future, and maybe the door will close on that ‘arena’ once the activity on this post ends.

Next time you’re sifting through the comments left on your blog posts, whatever the subject, have a think about how people are responding and where that comes from. Is it likely the commenters are reading each other, and is there something playing out there, even at subconscious level?