Whether we like it or not, we live in the world of social media. Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have become major methods of communication across generations and cultures. It is only natural, then, that social media is now involved in our grieving processes.
When we are talking face-to-face with someone or even over the phone, we typically are more careful with what we say. However, this is often not the case when we are on social media. Without thinking, we can post things that seem crass or mean. While it is always important to watch our words, it is doubly important when we dealing with an individual in the midst of the grieving process.
When it comes to social media etiquette the first and foremost rule is to never post any items before the deceased’s loved ones have had a chance to post something themselves first. Do not make the death about you. Treat the family with the utmost respect, no matter what else is going on.
When to Post an Announcement about a Death
If you have lost a close family member, you may decide to post via social media in order to reach as many people as possible in as short a time as possible. However, many families choose to personally contact family and close friends first so to prevent the shock of reading it online.
If you are not a close family member, then don’t post online as soon as you hear the news about the death. You want to make sure that those closest to the deceased have the opportunity to pass on the news first. The recommended waiting time is three to seven days before posting the news about a death. Alternatively, waiting until after the obituary has been posted in another excellent guidepost. Hearing about a death by reading an obituary is acceptable within North American culture.
Give the Deceased’s Family Some Breathing Room
If you are not a close family member or close friend of the deceased, it can be difficult to find out exactly what happened. The tendency is to want to contact the family and get all the details. Remember that the family is under a great deal of strain at this time so please don’t inundate them with messages over social media. Respect their need to grieve.
With smart phones, everyone has instant access to a camera and taking photographs and selfies is almost an epidemic. However, please stop and think before taking pictures at a funeral. It is an emotional time for many individuals, who very likely will not appreciate having their picture taken, much less posted online. Also, avoid taking pictures of the deceased unless you have permission from the family to do so. Even if you have permission to take the picture, it is recommended that you do not post photos of the deceased on any social media outlets, as it can be disturbing for others to view.
Messages to the Deceased
Social media accounts are often left open for a period of time after an individual passes away. As a result, you can still post messages, view photos, etc. Some people may choose to compose a message directly to the deceased as if he or she is able to read it themselves as a way to help process their own grief. That is completely acceptable but please remember to think about whom else will see the message.
Remember, in this era of identity theft, do not post any sensitive personal information about the individual online. This would include information such as their date of birth, contact information, and possibly how they died. Not only can it open up the possibility of identity theft, it can also be stressful for close family members in the midst of the grieving process.
Why is this Important?
Everyone’s grieving process is different; no two people experience the same progression of grief. This is also true online. Please remember to be sensitive about what you post on social media regarding the loss of a loved one. The impact of a post can last a lifetime.
For more insight into end of life social media etiquette, read Market Watch article “‘Netiquette’ tips for responding to death and grief on social media” by Mark Ray.