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Sharing Responsibly: Grief, Loss and Social Media

Sharing Responsibly: Grief, Loss and Social MediaA lot of folks these days are talking about unplugging from social media. Maybe not permanently, but for a period of time in order to have face-to-face connections with people again.

But what if not logging onto Facebook meant you wouldn’t know that your friend had died? That’s what happened to me earlier this year.

I got a phone call in May from my fiancé. He sounded alarmed and the first thing he said was, “Have you been on Facebook?”

I was making a point to avoid social media, especially during the day. If I haven’t finished work yet, I can’t log on because it’s a “time suck.” A minute turns into 30 minutes so quickly.

But what I had missed that afternoon was that my friend Don had passed away.

The man who posted about it is also a friend of mine, Marty. He didn’t say how Don had died or when. A number of people I haven’t seen since I was a teenager were commenting, upset and asking what had happened. Some seemed very distraught, commenting simply “Please call me ASAP.”

It turned out that Don had committed suicide and that’s why Marty didn’t explain what had happened to him on Facebook. I know what you’re thinking, “Suicide isn’t an appropriate announcement for social media but death is?”

There are responsible ways to share information, and I don’t think this was one of them.

Marty explained that he simply didn’t know what else to do. He couldn’t handle the idea of “calling everyone” and telling them, so he chose to do it all at once on Facebook.

I was devastated after I learned of Don’s death and for a while I couldn’t speak to Marty, who had known him just as long as I had. I was lost in my grief, confused about Don’s secretive struggle with depression, and yet also feeling betrayed that Marty didn’t tell me personally, that I had to learn about it online, which meant sharing it with everyone.

The Internet is home to so many hoaxes I was hoping for several days that somehow this would be one of them.

For a few months I couldn’t use Facebook. I’m not sure if I was afraid there would be more bad news or just more of the average things shared there on a daily basis: Cartoons about getting older, entertainment news, some quirky list from Buzzfeed, a French bulldog in a bow-tie. Things that can’t begin to compare to the news that our friend was gone.

Nothing could have made the disclosure painless, but there were better ways to hear it. Before someone makes a similar mistake, here’s my two cents after this experience:

  • Do unto others. How would you want to learn about this information? If you’d rather get a phone call from a concerned, close friend maybe it’s not something to share online.
  • Have faith. Don’t mistakenly believe you’ll have to call everyone yourself after you learn of someone’s death. You can’t take on the entire burden yourself. Untimely deaths occur every day, but it’s not any one person’s job to tell everyone about it. Other people take the burden from you by contacting one more person, then they can call another person, and so on.
  • Consider the audience. There are plenty of people it’s appropriate to “friend” on Facebook, but there’s plenty of information that shouldn’t be shared with all of them. Should a person you haven’t seen since you were five learn about your friend’s death on Facebook?
  • Ask yourself: What would your grandmother do? People did manage to handle the spreading of bad news before there was social media and you can do it, too. Would you rather someone read it during their lunch break or would you rather explain it to them over the phone, or even be there for them in person?
  • What purpose does social media serve in your own life? Consider this question before posting big news, especially a tragic announcement. Ask yourself if social media is the kind of place you’d expect other people to disseminate this kind of news? Would you want to see this online? Is it what you expect to see when you log onto social media? Answering this question holds the key to making such a decision.

Some of the things that happen in our lives have to be handled with care. The ease of sharing information on social media doesn’t mean we can’t still preserve respect and human dignity.

Sharing Responsibly: Grief, Loss and Social Media

Sarah Newman, MA, MFA

Sarah Newman is the managing editor and associate publisher of PsychCentral and the founding editor-in-chief of the Poydras Review.

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APA Reference
Newman, S. (2018). Sharing Responsibly: Grief, Loss and Social Media. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 4 Oct 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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