Social media mourning: Some manners required

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Lindsey Eaton

Early Thursday morning, March 23, 2017, I woke up to a phone full of text messages and Facebook notifications.

At the young age of 20, a dear friend of mine had passed away unexpectedly. Facebook blew up with posts mourning her sudden passing and celebrating the life that she lived. Within hours, people started commenting on her family members’ posts asking how she died, and when they weren’t given an answer, they began to speculate. Some would ask, “Was it a car accident?” Others would say, “When you say ‘unexpected,’ what does that mean?”

People were eager to come to her defense and arguments began erupting throughout the comments. Although each question seemed fairly innocent and just purely curious, it was obvious that the comments were taking a toll on her mother, brother and other loved ones.

While social media can be a wonderful source of information, it can also be an added strain on a touchy situation.

We have unfortunately experienced several fellow students’ deaths over this past school year, and as life goes on, we will face more. It is important that we remember to be conscious of other people’s feelings.

As someone who has also mourned the deaths of fellow students and loved ones, I would like to offer a few social media etiquette tips.

First, let the family members and closest loved ones post first. If they aren’t posting about it, perhaps it isn’t something that they want shared on social media and passed across the internet. Take a moment to breathe and feel out the situation before deciding to make a post announcing the person’s death. Leave that up to the closest loved ones.

Next, be extremely careful with details. If loved ones aren’t sharing any information on how someone has passed, it isn’t your place to share it either.

Asking may be inappropriate as well. Some people just need some privacy about the details, and there might be a personal reason why they decided to exclude that information. Respect their privacy, and don’t dig for information.

Additionally, make sure you have your facts straight. It’s important that you don’t share any information that you don’t know to be true. That information ranges from the time of the visitation, to the details about the death.

If you don’t know, don’t make up an answer that seems like it could be right. Respect privacy, be responsible and don’t assume everything to be true.

Finally, if you find it appropriate to respond to the announcement of a loved one’s passing, you should probably do it on the same platform on which they announced it. The loved ones will already feel overwhelmed, and blowing up their phone with texts, phone calls, personal messages and comments is not going to help. Keep it to one platform so that if the family needs a break, they can just step away from Facebook for awhile.

I had to turn my phone off after my friend’s death because I couldn’t handle all of the various modes of contact. It was just too much.

I hope these tips are helpful because they’re essential when dealing with changing technology and consistent mourning.

If you forget most of the points of this column, however, remember this: when posting on social media in regard to someone’s death, please do so with grace, compassion and caution.