Social media after a loss: a blessing or a curse?

September 13, 2019

Social media is now a big part of our lives and is not going to go anywhere soon. We use it to document the biggest moments, such as to celebrate birthdays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries and births. But what about deaths? We have seen over recent years, as social media use has increased, that it can also have a big impact on how we announce deaths, grieve and even carry out funerals. But is it suitable to have social media involved when someone has died? This article discusses the common ways social media is used during the grieving process, how it has changed the way we grieve, whether or not it is a good thing and what some of the rules are that need to be in place before you use social media after a death.

How is social media used?

  • Live streaming funerals – This trend has increased over recent years. Although it is not happening at the majority of funerals, it is a good option for people whose families are spread across the world or just cannot make it to the funeral. It allows them to still receive the closure they need.
  • Condolence messages and sharing memories – A popular use of social media after a death is to share memories and send condolence messages to the deceased’s loved ones.
  • Memorialised pages – You can report a death to Facebook if you can provide a copy of the death certificate. This means that Facebook can either remove the page completely, or memorialise it so that you can post on their wall, send them messages, see their photos and more. The choice is completely dependent on the individual and their loved ones. Another option is to use specific sites set up to publish obituaries. This provides a secure space you can visit, but it is regularly monitored which means you will not receive any hateful or inappropriate messages which unfortunately can occur on social media channels.
  • Announcing a death – It is becoming extremely common now to discover about people passing away via social media. It is an effective way of notifying a lot of people regardless of their location

Why is it bad?

  • Finding out about a death online – It is becoming more common to discover a death online via social media. Normally this happens when a celebrity has died, or a distant acquaintance or a family member of a friend has passed away. Usually, if you were close to the deceased, you will already know about the death before it is posted on social media. But this is not always the case. There have been many times when people have found out about someone they were close to dying via social media because someone posted about the death really quickly before they were personally told. This can have severe consequences as it is always shocking to hear this news, so by finding out about it in such an impersonal way can be devastating. It also means that you could be alone when you discover the news which sometimes makes the matter worse if you do not have someone nearby to comfort you
  • Constant reminders (birthday notifications and memories) – Facebook in particular notifies you about birthdays, which continues even after the person has died. In addition to this, Facebook also shows you your memories from previous years which could feature the person who is no longer with us. Having these notifications out of the blue can be intense and extremely emotional. You may not be prepared for it and could end up really upset.
  • Can overwhelm relatives and upset them – Although sending condolence messages can be thoughtful and shows you are thinking of them, having a constant flow of messages can be extremely overwhelming. If you are a relative of the person who died and cannot cope with the number of messages, then you may want to avoid social media for a while or get someone you trust to read the messages for you. Every person is different and copes with the situation differently

Why is it good?

  • Photos and memories – You will have photos to look back on all in one place and can help you remember some amazing memories you shared with the deceased
  • It can be easier to announce a death once rather than keep repeating it
  • Condolence messages – Although we have also mentioned this as a negative, having a list of condolence messages on Facebook and other social media channels can be a real source of comfort for some friends and family. Having messages of love that you can go back to and read can be a comfort. It all depends on the individual
  • Raising awareness – Social media has raised awareness of previously unknown illnesses and can help raise money for charities in honour of the deceased
  • Can use it to invite people – If you want a service that is open to all that knew the deceased, then Facebook is a great method of contacting all of these people at once

What rules should you stick to?

  • Always follow the wishes of the deceased’s family in regards to what they do and do not want sharing on social media
  • Never film a funeral unless you have been specifically told to do so by the family for live streaming
  • Don’t tag yourself at the funeral home or at a funeral. This isn’t something you need to advertise
  • Don’t be the first one to tell people on social media unless you have been given permission by the immediate family
  • If you can, phone the family or even better visit them rather than, or in addition to, posting a condolence message on social. It is a lot more personal and meaningful.
  • If you are an immediate family member of the deceased you can decide what to do with the deceased social media profiles. You can report a death to Facebook
  • Always have your phone on silent or ideally switched off entirely during the service
  • Don’t bombard people with messages
  • Never post personal information about the deceased. Not only is it disrespectful, it can also be a security risk

It is clear to see that social media has definitely changed the way we grieve. In some ways it is good that it provides us a forum to discuss death more openly as it has commonly been a taboo topic. Social media allows you to express your feelings which you may struggle to say out loud and it also means you can look back at precious memories. There are a lot of benefits to using social media but if, and only if, they are used in sensitive, appropriate ways. The main thing to remember is to always take into consideration the wishes of the loved one’s family. You should also never feel pressured to incorporate social media into your grieving process. It is not a method that everyone is comfortable with. Everyone is different and it is up to you how you include social media, if at all.