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Grieving In The Digital Age: A Short Film Explores How We Live On Through Facebook

The story of “Plainwhite Tom” illustrates how social media has evolved to play a significant role for loved ones after we’re gone.

Last year, Chicago street performer Tom Loconti committed suicide. But before his death, Loconti–known as “Plainwhite Tom”–used Facebook to say goodbye to all his friends and loved ones.

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Plainwhite Tom’s death and its aftermath are the subject of a touching short film created by participants in agency 72andSunny’s creative residency program, 72U. The subject of grief in the digital age and the increasingly significant role social media like Facebook plays for the people left behind is not new. In fact, that earlier this year the company rolled out a new legacy contact feature, allowing users to will away their account information.

The film focuses on the positive impact an ongoing social presence can have, particularly in how it helps the people in your life to continue to learn more about who you were, and what you meant to people. As Tom’s mom, Mary Mendralla says in the film, “Mourning is painful no matter how you experience it. You can’t get around the pain of it, it’s just how your heart has to heal. But to know that I had such a base of support from people who truly cared for my son . . . was so comforting, it was so great, I don’t think I would’ve come through to the other side of it as well as I have.”

Executive producer and director Maria Scileppi of 72U led the team that filmed, edited, and screened the documentary in four weeks. She says the idea came from discussions about privacy’s role in a digital era. “I had heard about a young Chicago street performer, Plainwhite Tom, who had taken his life and used Facebook to say his goodbyes,” says Scileppi. “While I had never met him, Plainwhite Tom and I had 50 mutual friends on Facebook. We were fascinated by Facebook’s role in Plainwhite Tom’s life and death, and how his digital presence gave his family and friends a new kind of support community. From there, I connected with his mom, Mary Mendrella, who ultimately gifted us with his story for the film.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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