COMMENT Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher died yesterday. Within minutes, Facebook and Twitter were buzzing. Almost everyone old enough to remember her when she was PM said in unison that her death was “the end of an era”.

Those who know of her only from the recent Academy Award-winning film based upon her life have also huddled irrationally together “to express their sympathy” for someone they have never met or even heard of until very recently.

This phenomenon of missing someone whom we do not know personally is a by-product of the influence of the mass media on our lives. Social networking has made this effect more pervasive, creating group identities.

This new situation means that leaders have to be celebrities to win elections.