When someone you love passes away, turning to Facebook can be a profoundly helpful way of processing that loss and expressing your grief. But, for the deceased's nearest and dearest, social media can be deeply overwhelming and upsetting in the immediate aftermath and even the long after a person's death.
People grieve in different ways What's upsetting for some people can be comforting for others. Knowing what is and isn't appropriate can be extremely hard to gauge. Mashable spoke to grief experts and a number of people who've dealt with loss to find out what one should and should not do on Facebook following a bereavement:
Don't rush to post your farewell message
Some people feel compelled to write a farewell message on a the deceased persons wall as soon as they learn of their passing. Be mindful that some family members and close friends might not have been informed yet. Don't let them find out about it on Facebook by rushing to say your goodbyes.
Costanza Passeri, an account executive at the PR agency Dimoso, found out about the death of two friends because people posted farewell messages on Facebook hours after. "I know that everyone has the right of express the pain in many different ways but I feel there is still a timing to respect. I felt heartbroken about the news and for the way I discovered it, which was so impersonal," says Passeri.
Tamanna Miah agrees. She found out via Facebook that her best friend had died. "It was awful waking up to it first thing, seeing the news on there, and seeing people bombard his Facebook and Twitter with comments, photos and messages."
Do follow the family's lead
Taking the lead from the deceased's family is best. Wait for the family to officially announce the person's death before you consider commenting or posting anything.
Keep the 'miss you' messages to a minimum
When you've lost a friend and you really miss them, it's hard to know what to do with those feelings. It's worth bearing in mind that tagging the deceased in a post might show up on their friends' and family members' News Feeds. And, if you're not the only one posting messages like these, it could be overwhelming for their loved ones.
When art director Mirella Aponte's boyfriend Dan died four years ago, she says around 30 different people posted "miss my best friend" on his wall after he died. "It’s weird to keep on posting how much you miss someone and tagging that person," says Aponte. "If it's a birthday or an anniversary I think its forgivable. Otherwise it is annoying. Call your best friend when you're sad, don’t bother his Facebook friends with it."
Do share memories in private messages
Sharing your thoughts about or memories of the deceased with a member of their family via a private message can be comforting for loved ones. But, being inundated with messages like these can be overwhelming. Make it known that there's no obligation for them to respond.
Psychotherapist Hilda Burke says that for many it's a huge comfort to receive messages of condolences, memories and images of the person who's died. "That can be overwhelming and they'd rather make sense of their feelings in a more private way," says Burke.
Don't constantly tag the deceased
On Facebook, we're forever sharing videos that we know our friends will enjoy. But, when your friend passes away and you spot something you know they'd love, it's hard to know what to do. Dr. Sheri Jacobson, clinical director of Harley Therapy, says it's important to keep others in mind when you're considering tagging the deceased in a post.
"Don't keep sharing posts that tag the deceased," says Jacobson. "While you do need to mourn, and while you might feel you are honouring the memory of your loved one, others might find it disrespectful or an unnecessary reminder," she says.
Keep in mind that whatever you post on their wall will likely appear in family members' and close friends' feeds. Consider typing the person's name without tagging them in the post, which still gets the point across.
If you're tempted to make a big post rather than just offering condolences, it's wise to consider working through some of your emotions first. If you aren't sure if your post is over-the-top, you could ask someone who isn't mourning what they think before sharing it online. With long posts, it's important not to 'showboat'. There is no need to prove to the world how close you were to the deceased with long, detailed posts about all the moments you shared together," says Sheri Jacobson. "It can feel good in the moment, like a sort of honouring of the one you've lost. But do consider how it might affect others."
Do keep your questions offline
Asking questions about a person's death could cause upset to others. "I hated it when people kept asking so many questions again and again when they could have easily found out from other sources," says Tamanna Miah. Explaining the same thing over and over again upset her even more.
Do know your place
When you're thinking about posting on Facebook, consider where you would sit at the funeral. "Would you sit on the front row? Are you family or their best friend? Don’t start posting about it if you’re not part of the front row," says Mirella Aponte. "When Dan died an old friend picked up on it and posted "Rest In Peace" on his wall. This was while we were still contacting the rest of the family. So not cool," Aponte continues.
Don't share anything too personal
Aponte says that by sharing your deep feelings on Facebook you reach people that shouldn’t be in contact with that information. Your deeply personal message could be construed as a cryptic message from a stranger by the deceased's family and close friends.
By sharing a private moment on a public platform, you might accidentally mention an event that another friend wasn't invited to, or expose a secret that the family wasn't aware of. "It's not the time to ruffle feathers. Remember, others are suffering too, and everyone will be more emotional," Jacobson says.
Don't appropriate an image of the deceased
If you're not an immediate family member or best friend, posting a Photoshopped photo of the deceased isn't a good thing to do. This might sound like common sense, but unfortunately, it happens. Don't Photoshop the deceased onto anything and don't turn their photos into memes.
Don't feel guilty for unfriending
If you are a family member or friend of the deceased, don't feel guilty about unfollowing or blocking the deceased. If it's too painful to keep seeing them tagged in posts, then do what is right for you.
We all deal with loss in our own unique ways. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to expressing your grief or leaving a message of condolence. Most important of all: Be mindful of other people when you're posting on Facebook. And, don't do anything that could risk upset.