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As you may have heard, Facebook recently apologized for the pain that their Year in Review algorithm caused more than just a few grievers. If you have no idea why Facebook needed to apologize, you can check out the original post that brought attention to this issue.
The long and short is this: Facebook created a feature that would show off the “highlights” of your year, not considering that the photos being pulled may not all be things people wanted to be reminded of. The algorithm pulled the photos that got the most “Likes” during the year… But, of course, sometimes we “Like” something not because we actually “Like” it but because Facebook doesn’t give us an “I’m So Sorry” or a “That Really Sucks” button.
You may be thinking: No big deal, if you had a bad year, just don’t take Facebook up on use of this feature… Right?
It’s not quite that easy. You can choose whether or not to use Facebook features, but you can’t choose whether Facebook will market them to you. In marketing this feature, Facebook blasted folks with photos of people who died, homes they’d lost, and who knows what other horrors no one wanted to relive.
Do we blame Facebook for forgetting that this past year sucked for some of us? Eh, maybe a little… but they apologized and we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt. Plus, we hope that this incident will help them be a little more thoughtful about those algorithms in the future. What it did do for us was bring back a topic we’ve thought about numerous times here at WYG: that is, grieving on social media.
We’ve talked about the benefits of Pinterest and Instagram as tools for coping with grief… and, even though Scott Simon live-tweeting his mom’s death made me super uncomfortable, I remain adamant that:
Social media is a new and important platform for communication. Love it or hate it, social media is a reality of communication these days. Although these early years of navigating how grief expression fits into the new social media landscape may feel awkward and uncomfortable, we need to leverage this space as best we can so it can be a safe and beneficial place to grieve.
So what about Facebook? We haven’t talked much about grief on Facebook here at WYG, which is surprising considering we talk about it in our work with grieving families quite often. In the moments following a loved one’s death, many people aren’t prepared for the ways Facebook may impact them—good and bad, short-term and long-term. So, today we are going to break down some features and considerations when it comes to grief and Facebook. In other words, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
You can share the news of a loss quickly with many people.
The Good: Rather than those painful calls we had to make fifteen years ago—repeating over and over that someone had died and telling others how you’re doing–you can now let your 427+ nearest and dearest know that your mom passed away… in five seconds flat. Then, you can update them with the details of the arrangements long before the obituary hits the paper and you can avoid those dreaded calls and phone trees. Sweet.
The Bad: Now your 427+ nearest and dearest are commenting all over your page… or all over your mom’s page… or all over their own page. Worse, your 427+ friends were able to share the news with their friends. Now friends (and friends of friends) who have boundary issues are blowing up your phone, showing up at your house, and sending you Facebook messages that you really don’t want to deal with. Ugh.
The Ugly: Because news travels via status updates these days—and because your sister didn’t warn you that she was sharing the news on Facebook an hour before you planned to—your mom’s best friend, who you planned to call and tell directly, finds out about the death via Facebook. Yikes.
Someone’s page remains active after they’ve died.
The Good: Facebook gives people one place to leave memorial messages, post photos, and share memories. It becomes a place where tons of people come together to pay their online respects. Beautiful.
The Bad: Your crazy sister has your mom’s login, so she goes in and starts posting crap, deleting photos she deems “bad photos” of herself, and unfriending people she doesn’t like. Also, Facebook doesn’t know your mom has died, so—three months later—Facebook tells you that your mom likes a page you are looking at, reminds you that her birthday is coming up, and sends you updates from her feed. She is being shown to your other friends by Facebook under “People You May Know.” Creepy.
The Ugly: Your mom’s page is open to friends and family to post however they choose and, let’s be honest, sometimes people are the worst. They post mean, nasty, or inappropriate things. They exaggerate their relationship with a person and become excessively dramatic all over her Facebook page. People suck sometimes.
You can submit a “memorialization request” to Facebook, letting them know that this person has died and you would like their page’s status changed.
The Good: All your mom’s settings, friends, and posts will remain intact. Plus, all of her friends can continue to share on her timeline (based on her privacy settings) and send private messages to her account, which can have great therapeutic value for some. No one can log in to her account, meaning your sister can’t make any of those annoying changes. Her page won’t appear in public spaces like suggestions for “People You May Know,” birthday reminders, or ads. Fantastic.
The Bad: There may be some folks who didn’t know you mom was on Facebook or who weren’t friends with her online, and now want to be. Sorry, no such luck with a memorialized page! Once a page has been memorialized, adding new friends (or even deleting them) and changing settings is not an option. Bummer.
The Ugly: Although Facebook has tried to make this process easy, we have heard some nightmare stories about it taking weeks or even months to get a Facebook page converted into a memorial page. It makes sense: Facebook has to be cautious so that people can’t just go around memorializing others’ pages as a joke, or memorializing a friend’s page when her wife wanted to leave it active, or whatever. But just be prepared that filling out the form isn’t always the only step in the process! Grrrrr.
You create a memorial page in memory of the person you’ve lost.
The Good: Unlike memorializing an existing page, this is creating a brand new page from scratch as a memorial. This is a brand new page that you create, so you have full control. You can friend whomever you would like, post whatever you want, and create whatever privacy settings you prefer. The page can be whatever you desire. Perfect.
The Bad: This is just a regular old page, so it will be included in ads, birthdays, feeds, “People You May Know,” etc. Not quite as upsetting as the actual page of the person who died, but still a little odd. Also, there’s a chance not everyone will want you to be in charge of the page… or that you might not want whoever started a memorial page to be in control. You know how family conflict can go after a loss. Or you don’t. But, if you do, I am sure you can imagine how this could go awry and cause tension. Annoying.
The Ugly: Your wonderful memorial page gesture isn’t as well received as you’d hoped. Some people don’t love social media, so—when you start a page to share images of and memories about your mom—your dad gets angry that you created a public display of her life. Whoops.
You create a memorial group.
The Good: This is a space that lends itself to dialogue and sharing. It can be made private or even “secret,” so that things posted in the group won’t show up in the feed of anyone not in the group. This can encourage open sharing. The admins on the group choose who can (and who can’t) be in the group at any time. Photos, videos, and messages can be shared within the group, while remaining private to searches. Clearly, this may assuage concerns from some of the social media privacy skeptics. Woohoo!
The Bad: A group requires that someone become a member. Someone can’t just come and view it, like they could a memorial page. This is not a huge deal if people don’t mind joining the group… but it is an issue if you have people who don’t want to join the group or who aren’t on Facebook at all but wished to view the page. Eh, could be worse.
The Ugly: I don’t really have an ugly for this. Groups are a pretty good balance between public and private, having control while engaging people, etc. You can even create multiple admins, so more than one person can have a sense of control. I have generally gotten very good feedback from those who have (or are in) one of these memorial groups. Score!
So, there it is. Longer than I planned, but hey, there are lots of details that seemed worth covering.
Please leave us a comment to let us know the good, the bad, and the ugly of your relationship with grief and Facebook. And don’t forget to subscribe to get our posts right to your inbox!