Grief and Facebook: the good, the bad and the ugly

As you may have heard, last week Facebook 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 your 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.  As you probably know, you can choose whether or not to use Facebook features, but you can’t choose whether Facebook will market them to you.  And 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 re-live.

Do we blame Facebook for forgetting that 2014 sucked for some of us?  Eh, maybe a little.  But they apologized and we are giving them the benefit of the doubt that this incident will help them be a little more thoughtful about those algorithms in the future.  What it did for us was bring back a conversation we have had numerous times here at WYG – grieving on social media.

We have talked about the benefits of grieving on Pinterest.  We have suggested using Instagram time and again to cope.  And even though Scott Simon live tweeting his mom’s death made me super uncomfortable, I remain adamant that when it comes to grief and social media we need to give people permission to do what works for them (even though it may not work for us).  Social media is a new and important platform for communication, and though these early years of navigating grief expression there may be a little uncomfortable for some, 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 on the blog, which is surprising considering we talk about it in our work with grieving families quite a bit.  Love it or hate it, social medial is a reality of communication these days.  Yet 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- 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 15 years ago, repeating over and over that someone had died and telling someone how you’re doing, in five seconds flat you can let your 427 nearest and dearest know that your mom died.  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 shared with their friends and now friends who have boundary issues are blowing up your phone or showing up at your house or 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.  Sh*t.

Someone’s Facebook page remains active after they’ve died.

The good: people can leave memorial messages, share photos, you can see their photos and re-read their words and share memories of them.  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 3 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 excessive dramatic all over her facebook page.  People suck sometimes.

You submit a “Memorialization Request” to Facebook, letting them know that this person has died and you would like their page’s status changed to a memorialized page.

The good:  All your mom’s settings settings, friends, and posts will remain intact.  Plus, all 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 login 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 page and now want to be.  Sorry, no such luck with a memorialized page.  Once a page has been memorialized, adding new friends (or deleting them) and changing settings is not an option.  Bummer.

The ugly:  Though 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.  We get it, Facebook has to be cautious so that people can just go around memorializing other’s 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 Facebook 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 make it.  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 potentially upsetting as the actual page of the person who died, but still a little odd.  Also, not everyone might want you to be in charge of the page, or you may 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 you start a page to share images and memories about you mom, when suddenly your dad gets angry that you created a public display of your mom’s 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 be in the group and can allow or disallow people at any time.  Photos, videos, and messages can be shared within the group, while remaining private to searches, which may assuage concerns of some of the social media privacy skeptics.  Woot.

The bad: a group requires that someone become a member.  Someone can’t just come and view it, like the could a memorial page which you designed as public.  This is not a big deal as long as people don’t mind joining the group, but it is an issue if you have people who don’t want to join a 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!

March 28, 2017

22 responses on "Grief and Facebook: the good, the bad and the ugly"

  1. I recently lost my aunt. It was heartbreaking. Only hours after learning that she had died, her three moronic children ( who basically abandoned her until they found out she was sick) decided to all post about their mom on Facebook. It was, in my opinion attention seeking and a horrible way to find out about a persons passing. Not to mention the fact that she was a very private person and specifically requested no Facebook. I think that to post something so personal so soon after death, is disrespectful and selfish. There are many people grieving . It was the most tactless thing I have even seen.

  2. One thing everyone seems to have missed (its maybe fairly isolated and cynical) but when a loved one dies people plaster it all over facebook and it (similarly with birth) guarantees them likes.

  3. I have very mixed emotions about posting on FaceBook w hen you are grieving. I definitively feel it can help individuals mourn and hopefully not feel so alone and isolated as well as consolation. However, it is so personal. I realize that each of us are uniquely different and have our own needs. I see this affecting both the person grieving as well as the family and friends of the griever. I have lost both of my parents, grand parents, and other family members. My mother died suddenly as well as both of my grand fathers. These deaths happened way before social media. I can say that I have experienced the death of loved ones that I was very close to. I loved them dearly and miss them so much even after all of these years. If I am alone, and I take the time to really, really reminisce the memories, all of the grief comes flooding back. Which tells me you never stop mourning. However, speaking for me, it is very uncomfortable for me to see FB posts when they are posted daily for a very long time. I have tried to understand why I feel this way and I still do not have an answer. What is posted it is hard to read. Especially every day. If it is providing support for the griever, then I can say FB is the right for them. But as the person reading it, after a period of time, I must mute their posts because I begin to feel bad. Also, the issue of family and friends attempting to console their loved one on FB. I see good hearted people writing their messages of love and support the best they know how and the person grieving tells them how that what they wrote wasn’t helpful to them. I have mixed feelings about this as well. Family and friends are doing the best they know how, they are not psychologists. I guess the answer for some would be if the posts from the person grieving is bothering you, mute their posts for a while, and then check back from time to time and see how it is going. Also, I am from the older generation which definitely affects how I feel about social media. Our generation spoke face to face with our friends and family. When my mother died, I went to a grief support group. This was so helpful to be with other people who lost their loved ones. To talk in person, in a safe environment. On FB it seems there is no etiquette and the written word does not communicate as well as speaking face to face with someone.

  4. I recently was going through my account on fb and saw where your fb can be deleted if you give them permission to delete your account when they are notified of your death, or you can give someone control of your account should you die.

  5. This is all just ridiculous to me!! I know a woman whose son died in July 2011 because he was a long time drug abuser who contracted a deadly virus from his many years of needle use. Anyways, most local ppl knew this about him & it was sad bc he had 2 kids..,BUT here’s the sick part-for all that time, a few times a month, his mom, Penny, STILL posts old pics, leaves Debbie Downer comments & signs it “love you, mom”…
    COME ON!! Mom needs to get some serious help!! And I’m not by far the only person who thinks this-a bunch of us used to kinda brush it off YEARS AGO but now we feel like straight out telling her she’s lost it. And for the record, in between the last 5&1/2 years, sadly other ppl have died & their families all kept a page 4 about a year or so & that was enough!! My dad passed 20 years ago when I was young & I’m glad there was none of this bs going on…. the whole thing is ludicrous! If you knew a person who died, be respectful, attend the memorial etc as it’s been done forever…no one I know wants to keep going on about dead family/friends other than themselves-like Penny-for sympathy. Pathetic.

  6. Today is the first time I’ve come across your blog & I must say a huge “thank you”! It’s been so helpful. I lost my fiancé unexpectedly on Sept 13, 2014 @ the age of 44. It’s been a very difficult road. I have had good & bad experiences with FB from his sister changing my beloved photos, adding & removing his friends, to negative comments left by his mom, etc. Not only have I had to deal with the loss of my love but his horrible mom & sister who were estranged with my fiancé and had never met me. In the end his account was Memorialized & I am grateful that FB did this promptly. It has been a way to express myself as I unable to visit his grave (he is buried in a different country from where I live).
    Thank you again for posting this & for your blog!

    • I am glad I came across this blog too Patricia – great posts! I am so sorry for your heartache & relate to your comment in many ways. I endure the passing of my fiancé as well & felt compelled to reach out to you. If you are a member of facebook, Steven has inspired a support group on their site. I will gladly share the link if you think it might be something you would like to visit. If not, I do understand & send you & everyone here a big {{{hug}}}

  7. I have a problem with some of the photos my relatives have as their profile photo – they are of objects that travelled with the coffin. It makes me feel sick to see those photos. Also I have another problem with another relative who writes a status update every week or month at the exact time of his death.

    I obviously don’t mind these relatives expressing their grief, but I don’t like how it impacts on me and how I feel. I actual feel a sort of disgust to see photos of the objects which travelled with the coffin – I can’t ask her to remove the photo though because she is a very sensitive person, with sensitive children and her children created those objects.

    There are many things about social media which aren’t good, but you somehow also need to have it for other reasons.

    • That is a great point Helen! It is so hard when one person’s grief needs negatively impact another’s. You may want to consider unfollowing people (at least temporarily) if their posts are a difficult trigger for you. When you unfollow someone you remain friends but you don’t see their posts in your stream.

  8. My dad passed way in 2011 and my Cuz Was murdered last year and for me and my family FaceBook has helped in so many ways!!! We have had none of the bad .. And a lot of the good!!! Pis to remember them by and videos to hear there voices again ❤️

  9. Thank you for this post which was really spot-on for me. I lost my husband in May 2014 and Facebook came up with a picture if the 2 of us in their proposal for my “year in review” and this was really painful. It makes me feel better to learn I was not the only one felling that way. Thank you for your great and thought-provoking articles.

  10. A very interesting article. Social media has it’s pros and cons and adding grief into the mix makes it even more strange, I think. I lost my brother and his Facebook page is still there and I had no idea how to remove it. Still seeing his name as one of my friends and things like that are bittersweet. There’s always that moment of sadness when I see it, but a moment of love too. Thanks for all the info here.

  11. I understand the upset with Facebook but there is also part of me that thinks “that’s life after loss!” These days it seems that social media reminders are no different than getting a catalog in the mail addressed to your deceased loved one or taking a call from a telemarketer who asks for your newly departed loved one: its still a jolt to your emotional self, but it’s going to happen and the reality is that we’re thinking about that loved one anyway…

  12. I would say that grieving in the Facebook era, although awkward at times and especially at first, has actually been mostly a positive aspect for me. My husband died a year ago on Christmas Eve, and it has been helpful to be able to post a few things and receive some encouraging comments on difficult days, have people share special memories, etc. I also feel somewhat thrust into the position of being a grief educator. I don’t over-post, but sometimes I feel like I need to be honest and open about my grief because many people don’t realize the length and depth of difficulty it entails, and many are suffering silently. I just finished writing a blog post about facing the New Year and felt led to share it as well:

    I did have difficulty seeing all those “It’s been a great year” posts and never clicked on a single video of those, but overall Facebook has been more good than bad in dealing with grief… plus, it’s how I first came across your site 😉

  13. Thank you for your post. My husband passed away 4 months ago and I started a group in memory of him where I invited a number of friends and relatives to join. It has been a lovely experience where people have posted photos, songs and little snippets about my lovely man. And also a healing tool for me where I can post how I feel sometimes…even just a lovely picture…it all helps, and is very easy to do. His facebook page is still in existence but people don’t tend to use it…they go to the group instead which is great.

  14. Well stated post. I channeled every attack & additional hurt from ‘(extended) into creating a community page on facebook. I knew some of this information from my experience but did learn a few things here too. Thank you.

    PS >My losses have inspired many things for which I am forever grateful. One of which is an annual online tribute in July if anyone would like to visit our page & learn more. I will help honor your loss for you. Here is the link

  15. Thank you for this post! I have been thinking about what to do with my brother’s page for a while, and this really helped. I would really like it to leave it as an active page, so people can post pictures, memories, etc. on the wall. Only that my brother left his wall inactive so that no one could post on it. We only just recently found his password, but are not sure if we should just leave it as he left it or make it open for people as a space to remember him. Thanks if you have any suggestions!

  16. Facebook memorialized my husband’s page almost immediately after I requested. Unfortunately his page still pops up in groups that Facebook suggests that I may be interested in, but I’m still glad I did it. He no longer comes up for birthday reminders or as a friend you may know.
    My only issue with Facebook is dealing with my grief and watching everyone else go about their lives is just difficult. I have drastically cut down my time there preferring Twitter and Instagram. Facebook just felt like a constant reminder that my world has been turned upside down.

    • Angela,

      I think cutting back your time on Facebook is a really good move. I took about a year off and I’m not kidding it made me feel better and after a year I got back on and care far less about things that previously bothered or preoccupied me. That’s just me, but for anyone feeling annoyed by the constant reminders I would recommend it.


  17. Hi,
    I am trying to get Facebook to memorialize my late husband’s FB page but I have 2 huge problems. I have no idea what email address he used to sign up on Facebook, he had several. The second problem is because I had him cremated and did a semi-informal wake type of thing a month later, I did not put an obituary in the papers. I have emailed Facebook (with no luck) and I am asking anybody out there is there a way to do this via mail. I can send them a copy of the death certificate, doesn’t clear up his email account, but still…..thanks for any help you can give me…….Robin Andersen

  18. What a great post!! You really educated me! And I’m glad you addressed the facebook year in review. I was shocked facebook did one for me, as I wasn’t going to since we lost my husband in July. But I found I could replace the pictures they had chosen for some of my own, making my review one that wasn’t so painful. Thank you for the other information. Very helpful!

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