There’s no right way to deal with death on social media
The first thing to bear in mind when sharing or hearing of a loss on social media is that everyone is different. “When it comes to grief, there’s no one way to deal with it, and no correct prescription, so each person’s way needs to be respected,” says Dr Fran Walfish, a family and relationship psychotherapist. “When people are experiencing a loss, it’s very important to step aside, not tell them what to do, and take your cues from them.”
Let the closest loved ones post first
While anyone affected by a death can feel a strong impulse to share the news on social media, such announcements should be left to the deceased person’s closest family members, who should have the prerogative to decide when, what, and how they want to post. “Sharing is really for the closest loved ones’ benefit, so leave it up to that core group to post the initial news of the passing,” says Stef Woods, who teaches classes on social media. “Note what information has been included or excluded from that post, then follow suit and show support.” A recent study found that the content of those posts can vary depending on the social media platform used. In a 2016 paper, two University of Washington students who had analysed the feeds of deceased Twitter users found, “People use the site to acknowledge death in a blend of public and private behaviour that differs from how it is addressed on other social media sites,” according to a press release.
Because social media has the power to reach such a large network simultaneously, it can be a helpful tool for a family dealing with preparations for a service or memorial. “When the loss is fresh and there are lots of plans to coordinate, it can save people time and emotional energy rather than re-sharing the same information in call after call,” says Woods. If you’re on the phone with someone, she explains, you could get stuck in a conversation that’s not just about you relaying information, it’s also about the other person processing it, and you may not have the time or mental patience for such an exchange. “It can be easier to post the information on Facebook, and then go focus on logistics. It can help give the closest loved ones their own time,” she adds.