Information Society

When Social Mapping Turns Macabre

The site of Ryan Dunn's death, pinned to a ZoomAtlas.com map. (Click to enlarge)

Death in the digital age has become increasingly odd. On Monday, following the news of Ryan Dunn’s death in an automobile crash, the public began tracing his activity prior to the accident using the information posted to Dunn’s Twitter and Tumblr accounts. The detail that almost immediately went viral was a photograph of Dunn and friends at a Westchester County bar called Barnaby’s of America, taken just hours before the crash.

As often happens in the aftermath of a popular topic in the news, targeted web advertising based on keyword recognition begins to appear online. Yesterday, on Facebook, ads from social mapping website ZoomAtlas.com promoting a Ryan Dunn Memorial began popping up. When you follow the link, it brings you to a map of the crash site in Westchester County, and encourages you to leave a note. Most of the notes are remembrances addressed to Dunn, fans thanking him for his years spent performing stunts on Jackass and Viva La Bam.

But what’s strange here is that ZoomAtlas, which boasts the tagline “Visit your favorite places, past and present,” is extending the definition of “favorite places” to include the scene of a fatal crash. Perhaps an annotable map lends some solace to fans in mourning, and provides another way to share memories or pay condolences. But considering the map was promoted using an advertisement on Facebook, and endorsed with banner ads from Tostitos and Chase Sapphire, you get the sense that the company may have stumbled across a new revenue stream.

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