Why Does Social Media Help Us Mourn?

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It was as though millions of people personally knew Robin Williams. Tributes to the actor poured in on Facebook and Twitter from many people who never had the pleasure of meeting him but felt like they had through his work.

The advent of social media has created a new way for people to come together and grieve, Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, told ABC News.

"One of the things we do when there is loss is we have funerals and we have wakes so people can get together and share that experience," Rutledge said. "Social media is giving us a way to share that experience with a larger group."

The Oscar-winning actor and comedian died Monday in California of a suspected suicide. He was 63.

Less than a day after his death, more than 7.3 million tweets have been sent mentioning Williams, according to Topsy, a social analytics company. Williams also remained a top trend on Facebook.

"Robin Williams has made a huge mark on people through the length of his career, so people want to know they're not alone in grieving," Rutledge said. "They want to connect the way he made them feel connected and so social media is an obvious and natural way for people to express that."

"It’s kind of nice, actually, that people who don’t know each other can express that and feel the sense of the reach that he had," she said.

Whether it was his charitable work that made us smile or his filmography that made us laugh, cry and think about the world, Williams was mourned on social media as millions of people grappled with the enormous loss together.

"We see this when someone like Robin Williams or Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston passes away,” Rutledge said. “These are people who have had a profound effect on American culture and have a profound effect in a positive way.”


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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