Appropriate Rules for Social Media Condolences

When someone dies — whether suddenly or after a prolonged illness, via natural or unnatural causes,  there is one universal truth — the ripples of people who are affected reach far and wide. A death is always painful, it carries an emotional weight that effects everyone differently. When we feel the distant ripples of a death in our community, most of us are moved to express our love for the deceased by showing support to the family and friends left behind. But how does social media fit into our expressions of condolences? When is it right to use and when is it something we should avoid?

In the days before social media, these expressions came in the form of phone calls, voicemail messages, and floral deliveries. If you were lucky enough to be in close proximity to the family of the deceased, there were visits that came wrapped with hugs and tears, and deliveries of food and beverages to feed all those who were grieving. Times have changed. All of those courtesies still occur, but there is a new style of grief expression — the online tribute in the form of Facebook posts, Instagram photo collages, and tweets. But what’s the problem with that? Shouldn’t people be allowed to express their love, care, concern, support, and prayers? Of course, the answer is yes. But grieving in the age of technology is still unchartered territory.

How many RIPs have you seen floating through your social media stream in recent months? Probably a few. The people who write these tributes have good intentions, but we must realize that these days, too many family members are learning of their grandmother or grandfather’s death via Facebook. Social media has become so fast, that many families haven’t had the time to share the sad news before relatives are shocked by the news online. It is important to wait until after the obituary is posted by the funeral home, whether on their website or any other platform, before posting the news yourself. That way, you can be sure that the entire family has been informed before your share your support online. You can even link to the funeral home’s social media page as a way of filling others in on all the details in case they would like to participate in the services.

With millions of active social media users around the globe, communicating online has become less of a generational phenomenon and more of a societal norm. We use social media so regularly that it appeals to many as a reasonable platform to express condolences. However, it is important to keep in mind the sensitivity of the matter. Take time to consider keeping your condolences off Facebook until you are sure that all family has been notified. We all want to give our support to a family that has suffered a loss, and when given at the appropriate time, any expression of condolences will be appreciated.