To Tweet or Not to Tweet? Social Media Etiquette after a Death
For most of us, social media is where much of our lives take place. We connect with old friends and make plans with current ones. We share photos of our partners, spouses, kids, and pets. We discuss politics and religion.
And for some of us, it is also how we communicate the news of a recent death.
Although there are many people who think that death notifications have no place on the internet, it is becoming more and more common to hear about a friend or relative’s passing online. And because you might be feeling lost and in shock, it makes sense that you will reach out to others through that same medium. Before you start posting pictures and obituaries on Facebook, however, it is a good idea to know the basic etiquette for sharing news of a death on social media.
- Don’t be First: It is up to the immediate family of the deceased (the spouse, parents, or adult children) to decide when and how to disclose the news of their loved one’s passing. Even if you are in the know, wait until a formal announcement has been made before you post anything online. They may wish for privacy or be holding back details for personal reasons, and it is your job to respect those boundaries.
- Fact Check: When a death is fairly public (because it was a news story or the deceased was well-known in the community), it is common for misinformation to spread. People might be posting before they have all the facts, which can have a very detrimental effect on the deceased’s loved ones. Do not share any articles or post any information unless you are 100 percent sure that it is correct.
- Don’t Post Private Details: You may know the exact time of death even though others do not. You might have details about the cause of death. You might even know about the funeral plans before anyone else—including the address where the deceased lived, and where the memorial service will be held. Refrain from posting anything that the family has not already announced publicly. These types of details tend to be kept private for a reason, and to share confidential information that is being withheld on purpose is a gross breach of etiquette.
- Be Respectful: Even if you did not know the deceased personally, it is a good idea to be respectful in what you say and post. When you say something publicly—even if it is only for your own benefit—there is always a chance that someone who was close to and loved the deceased will see it. Think of their pain and grief and act accordingly. If you would not walk up to them at the funeral and say it face-to-face, do not say it online either.
Another important tip is to pay attention to the medium. If you hear about a death on Twitter, it is probably okay to share the information on Twitter. (The same goes for Facebook, Instagram, email, etc.) However, if you read about someone’s passing in a physical obituary, or if you received a personal phone call from the family, try to stick to etiquette. By following the family’s cues and acting accordingly, you are much less likely to overstep sensitive boundaries.