Social media sites are ultimately used to share personal news, views and experiences, and no formal handbook exists concerning presupposed social media etiquette. The way we choose to use social media is something we’re forced to muddle through and figure out as best as we can, where we best gauge our posts against others we see on our newsfeed. But where do these unwritten rules lead us when it comes to something as personal as grieving? Mourning the loss of a loved one is a personal experience, so are there any pre-existing and hidden rules when it comes to sharing such posts on social media sites?
Taking into consideration the personal nature of grieving, we’ve compiled a list of few of the ways people grieve and in turn react to others grief on social media sites:
- Facebook pages can provide comfort on anniversaries of deaths, where they allow relatives to go back and read personal updates from their loved ones. It may provide family and friends with a virtual source of memories and humour to share, whilst giving them an opportunity to say ‘goodbye’ or ‘I’m missing you’. Where it allows people to feel that they are able to directly contact them, it may ultimately provide a type of catharsis, where their sense of loss can be eased as they embark on the healing process.
- Social media sites can provide relatives with a means to contact long distance family members and friends, to inform them of the loss of a loved one. They allow family to share the news with others on a personal, caring level without having to pick up the phone to speak to them, something which may be too difficult to do during the initial period of grieving. Where it allows individuals to contact other relatives but also to maintain a sense of distance, it can provide them with the space they need to mourn.
- The profiles that individuals leave behind after death my be seen as testament to their lives, where it continues to exist in the virtual realm as a compilation of that person’s accomplishments and memories. Their lives can continue to exist as a scrapbook of events; something loved ones can look upon during the healing process.
- Facebook, like many other social media pages, often become virtual condolence books in the wake of a death. It provides not only a means for relatives to share their loss with wider family and friends, but also a means for others to pay their respects. Social media sites may act as some comfort to those who can’t be with the family during the difficult period, where they provide them with a public, communal mourning place which can connect them with those they need to lean upon for added strength, by gathering those experiencing shared loss and allowing them to grieve together.
Whilst it wouldn’t bother many of us to stumble across a grieving post on social networking sites, others may find public admissions of grief hard to swallow for the reasons considered below:
- When profiles of the deceased are kept on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and so forth, individuals may perceive it to be a strange concept to “friend” a person who is no longer here. This is a complex process where people may question the intent of those who interact with a person in death, who didn’t know them or had little interaction with them in life.
- Those who view social networking sites as a way to relax after a hard day at work and a way to catch up with their closest friends could find the shared news of a death to be traumatic. It can become a difficult juggling act for families who feel a responsibility to share the news with those closest to them, where Facebook settings mean they may inadvertently sharing the news everyone on their friends list – some of whom they may only be slightly familiar with! Private messages and groups can be used to avoid sharing the news with your long distance contacts, although this could be last thing on a person’s mind when they are managing the emotional trauma of losing a loved one.
- When news of a death is shared over Facebook, it can make an already distressing period for family members that little bit more complicated. Should they have the strength to read the condolences their friends list share online, they may stumble upon posts from people who’s names have little significance and whose overly emotional posts may be seen as a little distasteful, when considering they barely knew your loved one. Where relatives are faced with posts from people they don’t recognise, they can be construed as a false and unpleasant attempt to prove they once maintained a close connection with the deceased.
Facebook themselves have guidelines for reporting a deceased person, and memorialising Facebook accounts.
Regardless of our own personal perceptions concerning social media etiquette, it is important to remember that death is a delicate process and is subjective to the person going through grief. What one person views as good judgment, could be translated as poor taste or offensive to others. It is important to remember that no two people process grief in that same way and that social media posts concerning death should be viewed very much in the vein of “each to their own”. It is much more important in times of grief to respect the actions of the family who are experiencing loss, to extend your condolences and to support them in any way they deem appropriate.
Have do you feel about using social media to share news of grief?
See also: Selfies at funerals