Because Facebook is a relatively recent form of publishing, and it is a loose and mostly unsupervised medium, the etiquette of certain situations has yet to be determined.
One of those situations is death. I was recently out west for a family member’s funeral. The evening before the funeral another relative died. Some of her close family found out via Facebook. Not in a private message, but because a friend of the deceased had posted an “RIP—you will be missed” message, and included the name of the deceased, which tagged the post. Tagging the post meant that it went to every one of the deceased’s Facebook friends.
As a result, the day of the funeral a group of us conspired to keep one already grieving person away from Facebook, so that she could be compassionately informed later. One sibling was shocked when she saw the post, and was fortunate enough to get through to another sibling and inform her just in time.
This prompted a little discussion on Facebook. One article was posted which was written by a woman whose husband had died at a young age. She suggested that there is a hierarchy of grief, and that casual friends should not be the persons announcing a death to the world. She also noted that if someone is in a state of shock over a death and dealing with the aftermath that person should not be deluged by texts, messages or calls asking what happened, especially when, as in her case, she hadn’t even informed all immediate family yet.
In the discussion, I suggested that an announcement on the deceased person’s Facebook page or on friends’ walls, should only be made when it is the official obituary. Thinking back I realize it is fine to inform people, that’s normal and natural, but it should be done via private message, for at least the first 24 hours, and maybe even a couple of days.
Having dealt with a number of deaths of friends and relatives recently, I can say that too many posts about a person whom you will be missing causes a sudden bit of unexpected pain every time it’s seen.
The lesson learned here is to think first of the family and close friends before hitting that post button. Who knows? Who might not? Be discreet in communicating sad news.