A somber mood enveloped Stephenie Buchanan’s family after her brother Tarrence’s funeral.
Following the service in May, family and friends gathered in a hall to celebrate the life of the deceased 37-year-old. Buchanan grabbed a microphone, with a surprise for the packed room.
“I asked everybody if they had Snapchat,” Buchanan, 33, said in a phone interview three months after the funeral. “I told them to go ahead and take a picture, and then scroll across.”
Those who had Snapchat loaded the app, snapped a photo and swiped until they saw the words “T’s World” on the top and “We love you Tarrence, rest in Heaven” on the bottom, superimposed over the picture. Snapchat calls the effect a geofilter, typically silly or cartoony digital images and words that highlight your location.
Buchanan created a custom one for her brother’s funeral.
But rather than be offended, people began taking selfies. Most of Buchanan’s friends and family members were excited about it, with only a handful of older folks confused about it all.
“They said, ‘Oh my god, he has a filter, how did they do that?'” Buchanan said. “No one knew until I got on the microphone. My mom was sad, but she smiled about it.”
Funeral geofilters are just the latest example of how Snapchat — an app that many people still struggle to figure out — has invaded the most intimate times of our lives. Custom geofilters are one of the hottest aspects of the young social network, where people can create templates to go over their temporary photos and videos to commemorate a significant moment in their lives. Snap Inc. said it offers on-demand filters for occasions like weddings, birthdays and graduations, but you can create geofilters for pretty much anything.
As morbid as it sounds, Snapchat filters for funerals are starting to pop up. The idea of using your phone to take selfies with an app that has features like a dancing hot dog and puppy-faced filters seems to go against the etiquette of a funeral. In 2013, Jason Feifer, now editor-in-chief at Entrepreneur magazine, even set up a blog called “Selfies at Funerals” to call out the tacky tech faux pas.
But others say the geofilters are actually another way people can pay their respects to the deceased. On average, Buy Custom Geofilters gets about 300 requests a month for geofilters. The majority of them are for birthdays and weddings, and less than 1 percent are for funerals, said Andrew Lee, the company’s founder.
Over the last three months, however, requests for funeral geofilters have been on the rise, Lee said. When he received his first funeral request in August 2016, he never expected that his geofilters would be tributes to the dead.
“I just had never seen that before. It was kind of shocking,” Lee said. His company has made a handful of funeral geofilters since that first request, acknowledging they’re another form of celebration.
“The whole, ‘sad funeral’ and ‘everybody wearing black’ isn’t as common these days,” he said. “People are using the funeral to celebrate the lives. Geofilters are just another step to doing that.”
Social media in the afterlife
If you pay between $60 and $120, you can get a funeral geofilter made, too. Lee’s company requests four days’ notice, and you specify what you want, with what color, text and design. If you pay extra, you can also get a little caricature of the deceased on the geofilter.
Lee said the cartoons of deceased friends and family members are often seen as tributes. That’s how Buchanan saw it when she ordered a geofilter for her brother’s funeral.
Stephenie Buchanan’s family takes a Snapchat photo with a custom filter she made for her brother.
Courtesy of Stephenie Buchanan