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Russia: The Dead Journal

Social networks strongly tie a person to themselves. The person opens a page under his/her name, puts out photographs, indicates interests, joins groups and communities, writes notes, shares impressions and thoughts. What happens to this page when the person dies?

Being a recent phenomena, social networks haven't yet worked out how to reflect a user's death. A person dies but his/her profile remains and he/she continues to smile on photographs and the life is still present in his/her friend feed. One can even write on a wall of the diseased. The person doesn't exist and real life buts still lives on the Net.

Very often, especially if we are talking about LiveJournal [Russian most popular blogging platform – G.V.], the last entry of a person who passed away becomes a book of condolence. For instance, after the death of Ilya Kormiltsev, a famous Russian poet and author of many popular songs, one his last posts [RUS] with just a phrase “A personal request. Is there anyone going to London these days? The medicines are needed. For me.” has received 1,752 comments. In general, the comments were short – R.I.P – but not all of them [RUS]:

Goodbye, Ilya. Thank you for being.

Poet Anna Yablonskaya died in a terrorist attack in Moscow airport Domodedovo in January 2011. Once this became known, many people visited her blog, [RUS] to leave condolences. The readers found in her blog a post dated back to December 21, 2010 [RU] where Anna, as it seemed, had anticipated her death:

I have a feeling that I have very little time…

Some online media outlets even posted articles entitled “Anna Yablonskaya Anticipated Her Death.”

The topic of death and social networks has got its development last week.

Online media found out a tragic story that happened on February 27, 2011 in the village Beliy Yar of the Tomsk region in Siberia. Vladimir Ignatenko, 26, has been locked in a backoffice and lit on fire. Apparently it was done by police officers. The young man could not get out except through the door that was blocked. Realizing that the fire is spreading, Vladimir started writing posts on his profile at «Оdnoklassniki», a popular Russian social network, and chatting online with one of his friends Yevgenia. The first message is dated back to 2.23 AM and the last one – 3.04 AM. The interval between the messages was 5-7 minutes when Vladimir had probably tried to extinguish the fire.

Last chat with Vladimir Ignatenko, screenshot from Odnoklassniki.ru

Last chat with Vladimir Ignatenko, screenshot from Odnoklassniki.ru

Last chat with Vladimir Ignatenko, screenshot from Odnoklassniki.ru

Last chat with Vladimir Ignatenko, screenshot from Odnoklassniki.ru

Vladimir Ignatenko:  Good bye. Sorry that I have no time to heal you.
Yevgenia: What happened?
Vladimir Ignatenko:  the door is locked and I’m on fire!!!
Yevgenia:  What? Why can't you call anyone?
Vladimir Ignatenko:  No, they told me at the local emergency department: ah, that’s you!!! Well [that's – GV] for Misha!!!
Yevgenia: What are you talking about? Who is Misha?
Vladimir Ignatenko:  I am trying to fight the fire here, but the second room is burning.
Yevgenia:  The room is burning and you are chatting here with me, go and handle the fire or jump out of the window!!!
Vladimir Ignatenko:   Windows are barred, and there are policemen outside. They did it… And I know that I will die.
Yevgenia:  I’m shocked. How can this happen? Do something!  It’s not possible.
Vladimir Ignatenko:  I am doing something, I am not an idiot!!!!!!!!!!!! Well, farewell!!!

The young man had been burned alive. During the fire Vladimir Ignatenko wrote two status messages at his Odnoklassniki page. The first one was:

Waiting for the death is worse than the death itself!!!!

And the second entry, which was also the last one:

The life is good, goodbye my friends. The death is beautiful. Sorry for this nonsense!!! I punished myself for Galina only and only for one mistake the policemen killed me !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Vladimir Ignatenko’s mother found out this posts on his page, turned to the police and this story became known on the Internet.

Last week, “Mother’s right,” an NGO defending the rights of servicemen, has launched a new project at the Odnoklassniki.ru. They created accounts of young men who died serving in the armed forces during peace time as a result of hazing or  commanders’ mistakes.

Accounts of dead soldiers, screenshot from Odnoklassniki.ru

Accounts of dead soldiers, screenshot from Odnoklassniki.ru

There are 30 accounts. Each has a photo with a mourning ribbon and a soldier’s story. All stories are written after the court decisions have been made, all mentioned facts have been proven correct. The places of studies have been added for each young man so his classmates can find out about their tragic fate.  There is one example:

Evgeniy Shamukhin.
I died in the Academy of the Ministry for emergency situations.
Place of study: school 391, Saint Petersburg.
Employment: Research institute Transmash (Transportation Machinery – GV), Saint Petersburg

Evgeniy Shamukhin

Evgeniy Shamukhin, courtesy of "Right of Mother" Foundation

I was drafted in November 2007 and served in the Academy of the Ministry for Emergency Situations in Moscow region. On May 13, 2008, I was brutally beaten up by my fellow soldier Alexandr Revyakin. He was beating my head with his feet regardless of my appeals to stop it, and at the end I lost consciousness. Suffering serious injuries and not coming to my senses I passed away in a hospital on May 19, 2008. On August 14, 2008, the military court of Solnechnogorsk city sentenced Revyakin to 6 years and 6 months of detention.

This project has received great attention on the Russian Internet. No one has ever created accounts for dead people in Russia before. The fact that the topic of death is entering the social networks, a space originally perceived as private and intimate, makes the death equally private for people. This way the Internet users attract attention to the cases of death in the army during peace time.

There is no field “date of death” in the profiles of social networks yet. And who would fill this out? Recently, Livejournal has started “freezing” the journals of dead people for comments by writing the following: «This journal is a memorial. New entries cannot be posted to it.»

3 comments

  • Very powerful article, Marina. We are, in a large part, our thoughts. If our thoughts are still out there, influencing people, does this make our death less final? There are days when I feel like I ONLY exist on-line – maybe it won’t matter much when my body dies. In the past, very few people had the opportunity to live on through the written word after their physical death. Social media and other media have made it possible for many more people to offer their thoughts and words to the world.

    Maybe death now means no longer contributing NEW thoughts to the world. However, with articles like yours, the conversations will continue to evolve from what these poets, soldiers and others have written. Death, where is thy ping?

  • […] written by the victims.” (More on it, in an earlier RuNet Echo text by Marina Litvinovich, The Dead Journal.) […]

  • […] Litvinovich reported for Global Voices on a relatively new trend where social media accounts of those who have died have […]

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