Announcing a death is one of the most difficult tasks any of us will ever undertake.
Besides the sheer pain and stress of dealing with our own emotions, the ambiguity of what to say when a loved one passes, who to notify and in what order, and all of the other decisions that have always made this such an emotionally volatile mix, today we are forced to incorporate social media into our grieving process.
While many of us would prefer to maintain more traditional methods of disseminating this sensitive information, the fact of the matter is that today, social media is the main form of communication for huge numbers of people. Increasingly, these folks have no qualms about sharing sensitive information.
Letting friends and acquaintances know about a death via social media
Social media etiquette is constantly and rapidly evolving. On this topic in particular, less than two years ago, Gizmodo, the popular technology and lifestyle blog, recommended that death notices not be posted because they would end up coexisting with the jokes, memes, and political rants that are more typical Facebook content. On the other hand, a blogger at the Liberty Mutual website describes her recent experience of learning of a professional colleague’s death via Facebook as “elegant”.
As more and more of us share more and more information on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other outlets, the concepts of TMI (Too Much Information), oversharing – even privacy itself – are disappearing. Members of younger generations (millennials, ie those born after 1981 through the mid 90s) are far more likely to text, tweet or post than they are to pick up the phone or even send an email. As this generation (and their children) ages, sharing intensely personal information, up to and including death announcements, is not only losing its sense of taboo, it’s quickly becoming the norm.
Facebook introduces the “legacy contact” for the profiles of the deceased
Facebook recently rolled out an update clarifying the status of legacy accounts. For the last several years, they have allowed profiles of the deceased to be memorialized. Now you have additional options regarding what happens to your account data and public profile after you pass away.
One option created by the update allows you to totally delete the account upon notification of your death. This will get rid of your timeline, all of your likes, posts, photos, comments, and notes, etc.
Alternatively, you could choose to designate a Facebook friend as a “legacy contact.” This person will have the ability to create a beautiful memorial post, and to pin it indefinitely to the top of your timeline.
The legacy contact will not be allowed create posts on your behalf and they will not have access to your private messages. They will have access to photos and are allowed to download your archive.
Should We Post—A Case By Case Decision
Even with Facebook taking the lead on this question (and with the other social media companies soon to follow, no doubt) the question remains: is social media an appropriate method of notifying friends and family when a loved one passes away? What are the issues you need to factor into your decision? And if you decide to move forward with a social media announcement, how do we do it with sensitivity and respect?
Consider these factors when deciding whether or not to use social media to make this announcement:
- How old was the deceased?
- How would they have wanted the announcement to be handled?
- Were they active on social media?
- Was social media their de facto method of communicating with their friends, family and colleagues?
If they were ambivalent towards, or didn’t use social media, then it is probably not only inappropriate, but ineffective as well for spreading this news. If they were active users of any of the major platforms it may be appropriate to use them to get the word out to their friends and coworkers.
A Valuable Component of a Robust Support System
Social media is the fastest, easiest and most efficient method we have today of getting information to potentially large numbers of people who have no connection to each other beyond the one that they shared with the deceased. It allows for the bereaved to come together to grieve, share memories and comfort the deceased family and each other, regardless of how far flung they may be.
In any case, we would recommend letting close family members, and close friends know by the most personal method available, whether that be in person or over the phone, prior to posting the news to social media.
Creating a Considerate and Suitable Post
Remember that death is a delicate topic, no matter where you’re talking about it, so be considerate when announcing a death on Facebook.
Some of the advice we read while researching how to go about this gave this very helpful insight: carefully consider why you are posting or tweeting about the death. Is it to inform, or to gain sympathy from others about your loss?
Limit the initial announcement to the logistics of your loved one’s funeral:
- The date and time of the memorial service or funeral
- The location of the memorial service, funeral or grave site
- Information regarding memorial funds to which people can donate
Thereafter, to help you and other bereaved individuals who may not be in the immediate family or innermost circle of friends process your grief, we recommend changing your loved one’s account into a Facebook memorial wall so that friends and family can post their memories, condolences or photos there. If you decide to take this step, you will want to monitor the site for a while to make sure that any content posted is appropriate and respectful to the deceased.
As is usually the case when matters of etiquette are discussed the Emily Post Institute is out in front of this relatively new development. Daniel Post Senning who is the social media etiquette expert for the Institute has this typically smart and well-considered take: “It’s another tool we have at our disposal,” Senning said. “We have to learn how to use that tool with some intelligence.”
If you have further questions or want more information on ways to memorialize your loved one, visit the memorial section of our blog.