Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Grieving on Social Media

Scott Kleinberg at Red Eye Chicago wrote a post in which he asked "Is it in poor taste to mourn in public via a social network like Facebook or Twitter?" His personal is answer, "I say not at all. We all mourn differently." I agree with that, but I also feel there are some things to think about before you post your grief online. Additionally, those seeing an online message of grieving need to think about how they respond.

Not wanting to ramble on in the comments field and needing a blog topic for this week, below you will find my tips for the grieving and their friends & followers online. Before you read on you may want to look at Scott's article for the complete background to this post and some great comments from his readers.

Social Media Considerations for the Grieving
Yes, we all mourn differently. If you are a heavy social media user it may feel natural to include news of your loss in those forums. Do what makes you comfortable, but before you update that status or send that tweet consider a few things:

  • Are there people who don't yet know about the death that should find out more directly? Although not quite second-hand, hearing about something via a wall post or public tweet is far from personal. Take reasonable steps to make sure that the people who should know first do. Some people should probably get a phone call, while others may just need a quick email or text message. Try not to let someone very close to you or the deceased feel like he or she was the last to know.
  • Consider the privacy of other survivors. It is likely that other people in your network are suffering the same loss, but they may prefer to grieve in private. Realize that posting something, for example, about a friend passing away may result in a lot of unwanted messages to the friend's spouse from mutual friends. Take care not to broadcast information that other's may prefer to keep private.
  • Don't grieve on LinkedIn. You wouldn't put the date of your brother's death on your resume, so don't put it on a professional networking site. Ditto for professional blogs. For example, this blog has a specific purpose: providing etiquette tips and other advice. An obituary does not belong here, although I have written about loss on a personal blog.
For Online Friends and Followers of the Bereaved
So, somewhere between Farmville updates and links you see that someone someone is grieving. How should you react? (Note: This advice is for people who are not particularly close to the other person: the casual connection or follower. Of course, close friends should offer additional support than that described here , but that is most appropriate out of public channels.)
  • Do not click "Like." At first you may think you'd clearly never do that, but imagine a post similar to "Grandma is at peace now." You like being at peace, right? That's good, right? Yes, but still don't click like. It's too easily misinterpreted.
  • Keep it simple. My husband often says that people online are just looking for a gentle squeeze on the arm. A simple "I'm sorry for your loss" goes a long way. Too much outpouring of sympathy from someone who follows your tweets or who you haven't spoken to since high school can feel awkward. And unless requested, advice can be unwelcome in early stages of grief.
  • But don't say, "I'm sorry to hear that." Although not what people mean, this literally says that you are sorry to have found out about the person's loss not that you are sorry the loss occurred. Banish this phrase from your writing and your speech.
  • Don't politicize the death. Unless the bereaved is championing a certain cause in honor of the deceased, don't use their grief post as a forum for proselytizing. For instance, when a soldier dies the family and friends don't want to hear your views on war. 
  • Don't judge. Maybe you would never consider posting about personal loss online. Maybe you think it's tacky. Fine. Don't be tacky yourself by confronting a grieving person about their choice to post. Ignore the update. If you are really offended, unfriend or unfollow. The only exception is if you are a family member or close friend of the deceased. In that case it is appropriate to politely request that an offending post be removed, but realize that the author may not do so.
What are your thoughts about grieving online? Have you done it? What responses did you want? What responses did you get?

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