If you’re a regular internet user, it’s likely that social media is a big part of how you spend your time online. Websites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are a great way of keeping in touch with friends and family and many people share every aspect of their lives through these social media networks. When a loved one dies, however, this can become problematic.
It is increasingly common for the deaths of friends and family members to be discussed online. People often spread the sad news on Facebook, or tweet about their grief. But how does this affect others who are grieving?
Finding out about a death online
Being told that someone you know has died is never easy, but reading about their death on Facebook or Twitter can be even harder to cope with.
It is becoming increasingly common to only hear about the death through mutual friends on social media. Often this is not even a direct communication. Someone may have posted a status or tweet saying ‘R.I.P.’, which may appear without warning on your newsfeed.
This means that many people receive distressing news with little or no actual human communication. Sometimes the facts are not clear, and they have to piece together what has happened on their own. It is a huge shock to see news of a loved one’s death on a website that usually only has trivial things, such as holiday photos or funny videos.
People are potentially receiving terrible news when they are alone, without support. Social media can remove that important human interaction that is needed at such a sensitive time.
Condolence messages online
If you have lost a loved one who was connected with many friends via social media, you may have seen a constant stream of condolences, ‘R.I.P’, and other expressions of grief, filling up your social media newsfeed.
Some people may find this comforting, seeing how many people loved and appreciated the person who has died. However, it can also be upsetting to have a constant reminder of what has happened. Some of the messages posted might be too distressing, or seeing the outpouring of grief may bring up complicated emotions.
Birthday notifications and memories
Many social media sites have a birthday notification feature. Even years after a bereavement, the social media site may inform you that it is your loved one’s birthday, usually with a cheerful reminder to send them birthday congratulations.
Facebook also has a memories feature, where it will bring up photos or messages from the past. In theory, this feature is meant to make you remember good times with your friends. If the person in that memory has died, however, this can cause sudden, intense feelings of grief.
In this way, social media can bring out sudden unexpected emotions, even years after the bereavement, for which you may be unprepared.
What can you do?
Social media companies have recently become more aware of the needs of the bereaved. This means that you can do certain things to minimise the amount of upsetting content you see on your newsfeed.
You can report a death to Facebook if you have a copy of the death certificate. Facebook can then either remove or memorialise your loved one’s Facebook page. You can also report a death to Twitter, but the company reserves the right to keep certain media on its site.
If a certain user is constantly posting things that you find upsetting, most social media sites have a way to unfollow or block another user so you do not have to see what they post.
Another option is to use websites designed for mourning. Services like Funeral Guide’s online obituaries give you a secure online space to share memories of your loved one. Unlike social media sites, Funeral Guide’s obituaries are moderated so that unpleasant messages and spam are removed. This can help stop the ‘trolling’ that occurs so easily on social media, where people purposefully send hurtful and upsetting messages.
Apart from these measures, you may decide to log out of your social media accounts for a while following the death of a loved one. Even though many people rely on social media every day, remember that it’s okay to take a break from it while you deal with the reality of your loss.
For more advice on coping with grief, visit our bereavement support pages.