You may wonder what is the correct Internet etiquette to honor and mourn the loss of a friend on Facebook, Twitter, and in real life, at the time of their death. Recently, both celebrities and friends have taken their lives. We are stunned and saddened when we hear the news, but are unsure as to how to mourn in a Web 2.o World?
I first started studying what I call the “Social Media Obituary” when I started writing my second book, The Rules of Netiquette: How to Mind Your Manners on the Web. I had observed how friends of mine were reaching out to express their sadness when friends and family members were ill and passed away. I noticed how people connected on Facebook to advise friends of funeral arrangements. At first, I was uncomfortable with social media obituaries, but realize that when handled in good taste, there is a place for a web page, site, updates, and a way to remember your loved ones. I decided to add “The Social Media Obituary”, appropriately enough as the last chapter in the book.
In my article on the Huffington Post entitled, “The Social Media Obituary,” I went into great lengths to discuss not how to hang your social media hat while mourning, but the responsibilities of friends on social networks when someone is crying out for help. The comments on my Facebook page were thought-provoking. They ranged from, “We must look out for each other,” to someone who wished a school friend a Happy Birthday on Facebook, only to find out that the friend had passed away.
In the most recent case, Emily Longley, a single woman, was found dead in her home in the U.K. after posting a Facebook update saying she had a stalker and was scared. A memorial page was created in her honor on Facebook, which received 16,000 comments from mourners and strangers. The memorial page was taken down days later due to lewd comments and defaced photos. This is beyond upsetting. In other cases, teens and students who were cyberbullied took their lives. These tragedies might have been prevented if we took time to look at their Facebook updates and jumped in to help.
The primary focus of The Social Media Obituary are on tribute pages being created on Facebook. It’s become both a home for us to share our joys and successes, while dealing with real-life issues such as sickness and death. While our relationship status updates include, “Single” to “In a Relationship” to “It’s Complicated” to “Married” and “Divorced,” we don’t have a category to say, “Deceased.” Some profiles stay active on Facebook as a memoriam. Others remain due to lack of digital housekeeping. Tribute sites have been filled with inappropriate comments and have been pulled down. One thing that is known for sure, we now mourn and grieve with the help of our social media friends.
From live tweeting during funerals such as Michael Jackson’s, as well as the outpouring of emotional comments upon receiving notice that Osama bin Laden was dead gives further reason for us to look at the subject of Internet etiquette on the topic of death and dying.
The full article can be found here on Huffington Post. I look forward to reading your comments on the issue. If you get a moment, do like us on Facebook.com/RulesofNetiquette where you can add your comments and thoughts.