Even though his Twitter and Instagram accounts went dormant after he passed on July 13th, they have both since managed to add hundreds of thousands of followers, not to mention grass-roots campaigns to preserve those accounts. And fandoms that have nothing to do with “Glee” are mashing up the Fox show that made Monteith famous with images from completely different shows.
Because the traditional mourning rituals, like attending a funeral (or in this case, a cremation), are reserved for family and friends, cyber anthropologist Michaelanne Dye said Monteith’s fans are forced to rely on a less conventional and more public grieving ritual.
While the “Glee” star is certainly not the first celebrity to be commemorated online, the untimely nature and tragic conditions surrounding his death, coupled with the “Glee” community’s social media influence, is giving Monteith a vibrant afterlife across social media.
“As people began living more and more of their lives online, it was only natural that longstanding cultural customs would find their place in cyberspace,” Dye, the social media manager of Georgia Tech’s College of Computing, said in an email. “Interacting with an individual’s Twitter profile after death might be compared to the practice of visiting a gravesite and leaving flowers or notes for the deceased.”
Monteith tweeted about the Syfy movie “Sharknado” the day before his death. He had 1,525,727 followers, which has since skyrocketed up to 2,126,145 followers as of press time — a daily increase of 1,856 people.
Chris Syme, founder of the social media/crisis management communication agency CKSyme Media Group, said a deceased’s online profile is used to remember, honor, and celebrate that person’s life.
“The phenomenon of celebrity Twitter accounts gaining followers after the user’s death may seem grim, but it’s really more of another way that people can say ‘we love you,’ ‘rest in peace,’” Syme said.
#RipCoryMonteith was the top Twitter topic trending worldwide the day after his death. It was later superseded by #StayStrongLea (for his on and off-screen girlfriend Lea Michele).
Jim Prosser, Twitter senior communications manager, acknowledged that “Glee”s popularity and large Twitter following have contributed to Monteith’s social media clout. The show’s official Twitter page has been gaining 3,559 followers a day since Monteith’s death.
A Twitter campaign — #DontDeleteCorysTwitter — arose a few days after Monteith’s death to ensure that the company didn’t deactivate his profile. It’s unclear why the hashtag sprouted up as Twitter, unlike Instagram, will only take down a deceased user’s account at the request of an immediate family member or someone authorized to act on the deceased’s behalf. For privacy reasons, Twitter declined to comment on whether Monteith’s family has contacted the company about deleting his account.
The actor had almost 9,000 Instagram followers early last week, even though he hadn’t posted photos in two years. Despite his growing presence on the network, Monteith’s account was taken down in accordance with company policy last week.
Meanwhile, the “Glee” fandom took to Tumblr to immortalize the late actor with GIFs. The majority of memorial blogs include images of Monteith’s “Glee” character Finn, especially ones of him romancing Michele’s character, Rachel.
But in a show of fandom solidarity, several Tumblr users have created posts splicing GIFs of Monteith with other pop-culture icons. One post uses GIFs from “The Hunger Games,” “Harry Potter,” “Supernatural,” and “Sherlock” with the words “Gleeks, we stand with you.” It received 100,706 notes in the last two weeks. Users have also offered virtual “fandom hugs” in support.
Although Monteith wasn’t active on Facebook, his fans have also used that social network to grieve — proving that one’s inactivity on a particular platform doesn’t necessarily reflect how it will be used to commemorate them. The actor left Facebook on June 30, 2011. He posted a status the following year telling his fans to follow him on Twitter under his new handle @CoryMonteith (it changed from @frankenteen).
Numerous memorial pages, including the R.I.P Cory Monteith fan page, which has 744,163 likes, have been created since his death.
Most celebrities and the majority of Monteith’s co-stars used Twitter to react to the news of his death, but Syme considers Facebook the social platform most conducive for grieving because it allows for more intimate conversations.
Dye said social networks create a space by which the dead “go on living.”
“Online users may look at a person’s past interactions, their photos, their comments, etc., which, in some cases, provides an easier way for others to remember and commemorate that person,” she said. “This type of interaction allows individuals to digitally memorialize the person by reviewing their past online interactions with them, as well as posting messages for the deceased.”
Michael Jackson’s death in 2009 sparked this trend of mourning publicly online, though Jackson himself wasn’t active on social media. Although there are no recent comparable examples, singer Jenni Rivera received a similar spike in social media followers after her untimely death last December. She currently has 2,303,817 Twitter followers, but took a huge drop in mid June and is now losing 281 followers a day.
According to Syme, Monteith’s fans will continue to create blogs and fan pages in his memory until they’ve experienced the traditional five stages of grief.
“As we go more toward acceptance, you’re going to see that wane,” Syme said. “The trend will die off eventually exponentially in relation to his fame.”
Monteith currently has a Klout — a social media influence ranking tool — score of 88 (out of 100). It’s unclear whether the number reflects current statistics, as the company said via email that “it would not be possible for us to track his score since he is deceased.”
Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram also declined comment.