If you’ve been using social media for the last few years, then you’ve probably come across one of your friends posting about someone in their life passing away. Maybe you have even been friends with someone yourself who has since passed away (and if so, we’re sorry for your loss).
Our modern age, where information is often immediately and readily available, turns an already tragic situation into something infinitely more sticky. Knowing what protocol to follow can be difficult. We hope this guide will help you decide what is appropriate in these unfortunate situations.
Don’t post anything right away.
Public information on social media spreads pretty rapidly. A negative effect of posting too quickly is that information may have been meant to be kept private until the closest loved ones have the chance to break the news to relatives and close friends first.
The timing of sharing sensitive information or news should be up to the people most closely involved to the situation. For instance, we know of someone whose brother and sister-in-law told them they were going to have a baby, though they hadn’t shared it publicly yet. And although this is literally the opposite of someone passing away, it’s still a type of information that’s meant to be shared first by those whom it directly affects.
Unfortunately, this individual absentmindedly posted something about it online, then quickly deleted it. However, within just those couple of minutes, a few people saw it and began texting and calling. The couple ended up having to lie about it at first, and it caused a little fire they had to put out.
If you were to do the same thing with a sorrowful goodbye post, it would no doubt spread even more quickly through social media, alerting everyone and getting them talking.
Especially if the death was unexpected, this type of post would also make people inquisitive about what happened. The family may just want some privacy until they are ready to share their sad news. So always use caution before turning to social media to post a message of this type, even if you have good intentions.
Keep the “I miss you” posts to a minimum.
This is a tough one, because at some point, the family may want to see and read all the messages, posts, tags, pictures, and memories, but in the beginning it might be too painful for them to see.
Those of us who were the person’s friends may want to post a throwback picture or tell a funny story or share a good memory. Just be careful not to overdo it.
As Mashable cautions, “When you’ve lost a friend and you really miss them, it’s hard to know what to do with those feelings. It’s worth bearing in mind that tagging the deceased in a post might show up on their friends’ and family members’ [feeds]. And, if you’re not the only one posting messages like these, it could be overwhelming for their loved ones.”
If you’re close to the family, then it’s best to call or email. If you weren’t, then a message or picture might be okay. But be aware that the whole family might see it, so before you post, consider how it will make them feel.
Share memories in private message, but don’t expect the family to respond.
The family is going through something incredibly traumatic and it shouldn’t be their responsibility to help anyone but themselves at the moment.
Mashable makes another great point here: “Sharing your thoughts about or memories of the deceased with a member of their family via a private message can be comforting for loved ones. But, being inundated with messages like these can be overwhelming. Make it known that there’s no obligation for them to respond.”
It can be a huge comfort for the family to receive messages from friends all over the world, but choose your words carefully and try to focus on the good times. If you really want to go the extra mile, you could always offer your contact information so the family can reach out and talk. Sometime they may even want to ask questions to find out more information about their loved one that they didn’t already know.
Don’t constantly tag the person.
If you think about this one, it makes perfect sense. Suppose you’re browsing online and come across something that reminds you of your friend who passed away. You may have the urge to tag them as you would have done in the past, and it might give you a moment of comfort to dive into the past and chuckle at the memory it triggered.
In reality, not everyone is going to have that same response, but they will surely see you tagging the person, and seeing that may make things harder for them. Tagging someone is often just an inside joke, anyway, so it might be best just to keep that in your memory.
Dr. Sheri Jacobson, clinical director of Harley Therapy, says, “Don’t keep sharing posts that tag the deceased. While you do need to mourn, and while you might feel you are honouring the memory of your loved one, others might find it disrespectful or an unnecessary reminder.”
Don’t post long memories and long stories.
We may have the urge to write out the funny details about sneaking out in sixth grade to a girl’s house down the street, but bear in mind that it may not be appropriate.
The statute of limitations might have expired for the sneaking out part, but you never know any details of something that may have been kept hidden from someone else—or what emotions that might dredge up. It’s not worth the risk.
It’s also important to keep in mind that people may get a little uncomfortable if you ramble on for a page about the person who passed away and everything you are going through.
Don’t get us wrong, it will feel good in the moment and it’s a great idea to write your thoughts down, but maybe do a practice run in your journal first before posting it to social media for all eyes to see.
Keep questions offline.
We know, we all have the sudden intense curiosity to find out the details when we first see an online post of this nature. We want to know what happened, how, or why, but usually we are left with a sort of cryptic post about a tragic passing and we end up searching on Google for more information.
Most of us are “friends” with hundreds of people online, and many of those friends are old high school classmates or acquaintances we knew for a moment in time. If we see something sad has happened, it’s only human to be curious as to what the circumstances were. But it’s not really appropriate to for more details, especially when you weren’t at all close with the person anymore.
Asking questions on social media about a person’s death could cause some uncomfortable feelings for others. Among other issues, there may be hundreds of eyes that will see a post, and often loved ones may not wish intimate details to spread widely. If you really feel you must know what happened and you know someone who might have details, a private message, text, or call may feel like less of a violation.
Always bear in mind, though, that unless you are pretty close to the situation, the deceased person’s loved ones may not care to have this information shared now—or ever. It’s a good practice to ask yourself whether it’s important for you to know the information or whether you are mostly curious. If it’s the latter (and let’s be honest, it probably is), it’s not worth further upsetting people just so you can be in the know.
Don’t feel guilty for unfollowing.
Everyone deals with grief in their own private way. It might be too hard in the months following a death to keep seeing the person’s name pop up all over the place when you’re on social media.
Perhaps it is best to take a break from going on the major platforms, or you could temporarily unfollow the person.
If you are a family member or friend of someone who has passed away, there should be no shame, harm, or negative feelings associated with guilt about unfollowing the person. It might be too soon for you to see all the messages, tags, and posts, and the best thing to do could be giving yourself a little space to deal with your emotions in your own way.
This might help you heal better than being forced to look at everyone else’s emotions as they post their thoughts and memories on social media.