While social media lets us communicate with each other quickly and efficiently, it’s also a place where people seem to forget the social etiquette that governs our face to face interactions day in and day out. People often type things they would never say in a group of friends or at a family gathering, and those thoughtless words often hurt others, especially when it concerns the death of a loved one. But we can do better.
Below, we will discuss 10 Dos and Don’ts for discussing death and loss on social media platforms and how you can be a positive contributor to friends and family going through the loss of a loved one.
1. DO Wait for the Family to Post First
Always, always, always wait for close family members to announce the death before you post ANYTHING on social media about a death. If you aren’t a close family member (parent, spouse, sibling), it’s not your place to make the announcement unless you’ve been asked to do so. By waiting, you show your respect to the family and give them time to alert all family members personally about the death. Otherwise, some family members might hear about the death through social media.
Additionally, discussing the death online before the family does may add extra grief and stress to the family. They may not have planned to announce anything on social media at all, and now, you’ve forced them into a situation where they may receive many comments, private messages, phone calls, emails, and questions. This adds unnecessary complications to an already emotionally distressing time. And if the family never posts online, show your support by refraining from posting anything yourself or by at least waiting until the funeral has already taken place.
2. DO Get the Facts Right
If the family has made the death announcement, and you decide to post on social media, make sure that whatever information you share is correct, not hearsay or gossip. For example, you may have heard that the death was suicide-related, but that’s actually false. Not only is this mistake mortifying, it’s also traumatic for any family or friends who may believe your post.
Before sharing any facts, ask yourself two questions: 1) Did I receive my information from a close family member and know that it’s true? and 2) Am I the person to share this information or is there someone else more appropriate? If you aren’t sure, err on the side of caution and don’t post anything you can’t verify.
3. DO Consider the Best Way to Offer Condolences
It’s natural to offer condolences after a loss, but carefully consider how you go about offering your condolences. Consider your relationship to the deceased and to any immediate family members. Also, consider how you received the news of the death.
If you received the news on social media, offer condolences on a social media platform or an online memorial page. If you received a phone call or text, respond in kind. However, if you learned about the death online but would like to talk to someone, consider waiting to call. The family is dealing with the stress of planning a funeral and the emotional toll of losing a loved one. If every person called, it would be overwhelming in the first days following a loss. Instead, write a letter, send a text message, or private message to offer your condolences and then follow-up with a phone call at a later time, when things have calmed down a bit.
A final note – consider whether your condolences will bring comfort or further pain. If you have a poor, strained, or even volatile relationship with the grieving family, hold off on any contact. Put the family’s needs above your own desire to offer condolences and either say nothing or wait until emotions have settled.
4. DO Check Your Settings
As with anything on social media, be mindful of your audience. This is especially true when discussing death because it can be a very sensitive topic, especially if the cause of death is still under investigation or due to tragic or difficult circumstances. Before posting, carefully consider who all may see your post. Is there anyone you should block from being able to see it, like children or employers? Adjust your settings as needed or simply re-think whether your post is necessary at all.
5. DO Stop, Re-read, and Think Before You Post
As with anything you write, it’s always good practice to stop, read it again, and think before you hit send or post. By pausing, you give yourself a moment to look at what you’ve written with new eyes. Are you feeling very emotional and saying something you will regret later? How will any grieving friends or family feel after reading your message? Have you shared information that’s best kept private? Always use your best judgment before putting your words out into the world.
6. DON’T Be Nosy
We are all naturally curious people. Often, we simply want to know what happened, especially with an unexpected death. But ultimately, the family’s need for privacy is more important than any sense of curiosity. You can certainly hunt around on different social platforms or use a search browser to find whatever information you can, but refrain from asking the family questions or sharing anything you find online. Whatever the family wants others to know, they will share in person or on social media, and that should be enough.
7. DON’T Use Clichés or Platitudes
Too often we just don’t know what to say in the face of death, and that’s okay. For example, instead of saying, “They’re in a better place” or “I’m sure they wouldn’t want you to be sad,” find ways to offer genuine care and sympathy. For instance, “I’m so sorry this has happened” or “My heart hurts for you; I’m so sorry” would be better options. Strive to be tasteful and kind in your comments, offering the family encouragement and support.
For more help with phrases NOT to say to a grieving person, read 6 Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person and 6 MORE Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person.
8. DON’T Share Too Many Personal Details in Your Comments/Posts
This goes back to taking the lead from the family. If you know some details about the death that the family hasn’t shared, keep them to yourself (unless it involves a crime). If the family prefers not to discuss certain details online, honor their wishes by limiting the information you share. You definitely don’t want to infringe on the family’s privacy or try to pry sensitive and possibly painful details out of the family.
9. DON’T Constantly Tag the Deceased Person
While your intentions may be good, constantly tagging a lost loved one in online posts could be difficult for others to see. While sharing an image or a post or a video that reminded you of the person who has died might bring you a moment of peace, it could be harmful or disrespectful to the family as they grieve. It’s not that you can never tag the person – simply keep it to a minimum and be respectful and sensitive in your wording. After all, the image will still mean something special to you and remind you of the person you loved even if you never post it. For other ideas on how to keep a loved one’s memory alive, click here.
10. DON’T Make it About You
When you offer condolences online, try not to bring up your own personal hurts. Instead, keep the focus on your friend or family members. You may feel tempted to engage in “troubles talk” to find common ground with the other person so that you can, in some way, share the loss. But by talking about your own troubles, you turn the focus to your pain, not theirs. While you may have suffered a similar loss, it’s not the same. Different people, different relationships, different dynamics, different grief. Focus on offering words of support and encouragement. If they ask about your own loss, then feel free to share, but let them open that door.
Sometimes Offline is Better
While social media is great in so many ways, it’s not the place to work out your grief. If you have specific questions about the death or want to make a deeper connection with a member of the deceased’s family, take time in real life to do that. Some topics and discussions are just better and more appropriate in person or in private (whether that’s an email, a letter, or a phone call).
But no matter what you decide to do, remember that the family is going through a tough time. They need your support, your kindness, your encouragement, and your grace. Look for ways to offer your sympathy. Offer your gifts and talents as a resource. The family is embarking on the beginning of a journey through grief, and they need all of their kind and caring friends along the way.