Over the last 10 years, the invention of the internet and the rise of social media has inherently changed the way we socialise. According to a report by Sensis, half of all Australians access social media every day and can spend up to 12 hours per week on Facebook alone. These numbers are only increasing with younger generations.
Thanks to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, social media is constantly at your fingertips to document every aspect of your daily life, whether you’re having fun at the beach, catching up with friends, or expressing your opinion on the latest news. For some people, this extends to mourning the death of a loved one and expressing grief after a bereavement.
Expressing your emotions is a healthy part of grief, but it’s important to think about how your social media posts may affect others who are grieving for that person. Here are five guidelines to make sure your social media presence is respectful of the memory of the person who died and their family.
1. Do not post personal information about others
This is perhaps the golden rule of social media etiquette after a death, or indeed at any time. While sharing fond memories or expressing your sadness may be acceptable, posting sensitive personal information about the person who died is likely to be extremely distressing for bereaved friends and family. In some cases it may even be a security risk.
To be safe, don’t post their date of birth, address or contact information. In some cases you may want to avoid posting details of how they died too. Always bear in mind that, depending on your privacy settings, it may not just be your friends who see that information.
2. Wait to post about the death
If you are the next of kin of the person who died, you may choose to inform people on social media of their death as a way of reaching many people quickly. However, you may want to inform close friends and family first, so that they do not find out via Facebook or Twitter.
If you are not the next of kin, if you are a distant relation or acquaintance, do not post about the death as soon as you hear about it. Make sure that the next of kin has already announced the death on social media first, as this usually means that most people will already know. If the next of kin do not announce it on social media, you may want to wait a few days or until after the funeral.
Finding out about the death of a loved via social media can be very upsetting, particularly because of the lack of human interaction. Waiting to post about the death can help make sure no one close to the person who died finds out in this way.
3. Don’t bombard the bereaved with messages
If you aren’t part of the family or closest friends of the person who has died, you might be anxious to find out more information. You might want to ask their next of kin what exactly happened. However, don’t overwhelm them with lots of messages, and don’t become impatient if they don’t reply. Respect that they need space to grieve.
Sending a message to offer your condolences and support is fine, but bear in mind that they will be dealing with the loss of their loved one as well as funeral arrangements. They may not have time to respond, but this doesn't mean they don't appreciate your words of support.
4. Beware of photographs and selfies
Nowadays almost everyone has access to a digital camera, thanks to their smartphones. What’s more, the photos taken by that camera can be quickly and easily uploaded to the internet. While this is usually a good thing, it can be a different story at funerals.
Some younger smartphone-users recently came under fire for ‘funeral selfies’, photos taken of themselves at funerals. While some of these selfies were intended to show grief, by showing them crying or looking thoughtful, others showed their subjects laughing or pulling mock sad-faces. Some photos even included open caskets in the background, showing the person who had died. These photos were then shared publically via social media.
Although younger generations might have more mixed feelings about the funeral selfie trend, it seems that many people find the practice entirely disrespectful. If you’re worried about upsetting bereaved friends and family, do not share these photos on social media, or better still, do not take them at all.
5. Think about messages to your loved one
After a person dies, often their social media accounts are not immediately closed down. This means that you can still write messages to them online, view photos of them and ‘like’ things on their page. Some people choose to write messages to their loved ones, addressing them directly as if they can read those messages. This is sometimes helpful as a way of coping with grief.
If you want to write to the person who has died, think about who will be able to see the message. For example, writing to them on Facebook Messenger will only be visible to you – no one else will be able to see it. If you post on their Facebook wall, however, all their friends will be able to read it.
For others mourning the loss of that person, seeing messages addressed to them may be upsetting, especially if the content is very personal and emotional. You might want to opt for a private message instead.