We Regret to Inform You (via Facebook)
Up in arms about the netiquette of announcing a death on Facebook? Perhaps it’s in the delivery.
Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project
Recently, I learned via my Facebook page that a woman I’d known professionally and had been friendly with had passed away. She was in her early thirties. She and I had lost contact over the years, only because our professions had diverged. On the blog she had created about her breast cancer, her friends had taken the opportunity to post the eulogies they’d delivered at her funeral. It was a touching and, dare I say, elegant way to tell the story of someone I’d admired from afar, but who they had deeply loved.
Much has been made of delivering the news of a death on Facebook. I’ve read plenty of screeds against the practice entirely, and stories about those who’d been delivered an unexpected blow through social media. Sometimes it has been when a friend or relative has taken over the deceased’s Facebook page and made the announcement – as if from the grave. I will contend that this is acceptable, depending on how you handle it.
In 2012, New York Times writer Philip Galanes answered a netiquette question from a reader who was furious that her son had posted the news of her ex-husband’s death. I agree with his answer: “To me, Facebook and Twitter are too chilly for sharing tragedies with our nearest and dearest […] On the other hand, social media seems well suited for spreading the word to workaday pals – after our first- (and possibly second-) tier folks have been notified.” In 2011, Tony Wilson of Boughton Law Corporation in Vancouver, published an entire piece on online reputation management using the example of the announcement (by a relative) of his own mother’s death on Facebook. It offers a valuable look at the complexities of managing the information you disseminate via social media.
If you are one of those vehemently against the announcing of a death via Facebook, consider this: I announced my husband’s death in 2010 over Facebook. It was sudden, I didn’t know how to get hold of his friends (and frankly, was in no shape to pick up the phone), and taking over his page was the only way I knew to invite them to his funeral – only two days later – in the mountains more than 100 miles from where we lived. Had I not gone on Facebook, it’s possible no one would have known until much later (when the rumors would have traveled along the same channels anyway), and I would have been standing in that outdoor chapel in the Blue Ridge Mountains on a chilly October day without the people who loved him best. They came, and to me, that’s what matters.
In a blog post from around the same time as my husband’s death, Rosemary Picado wrote about learning of a close friend’s death via Facebook: “I need to give Facebook a mixed review […] You definitely get the news in a timely manner, which is vital when you need to make travel plans, but in an environment that is mostly populated with silly videos and jokes, it’s an inelegant device at best for such shocking and life changing news.” Then again, she asked, when would she have found out?
What are your thoughts on the responsibility of announcing a death online? Weigh in here.