Life and Death on Facebook

January 30, 2016


I’ve seen more than the usual puppy videos and selfies on my Facebook news feed this past month.

Early in January, my cousin and her husband announced the birth of their baby girl who (rather impatiently) arrived weeks before her due date. Joy has been mixed with worry and Facebook has been the source of medical updates, photos, as well as the creation of a caring community for the new parents, family and friends. Each evening the my cousin shares updates on the baby’s progress (which thankfully has been steady) and we share words of encouragement.

This past week, as we were all digging out from the Blizzard, up popped horrific news from the wife of a friend.  She was letting us know that that our friend had died the day before in a swimming accident while on a business trip. Only hours before, he had posted a photo on Facebook – making the news seem even more incomprehensible.

And then, a completely joyous announcement. A dear friend announced her engagement. Though news to me, the engagement happened weeks before but the couple waited before announcing on Facebook so they could first share the news with their families in person.

It is a strange world we have entered where this virtual community serves as our village green. A new etiquette is developing around the sharing of lifecycle events on social media – both the joyous and tragic. Ideally, those with news to share will first reach out to family and close friends by phone and in person. Then it falls to those close family members and friends to be discrete and refrain from posting anything on social media until (and unless) cleared by the family. Of course this isn’t that different than sharing news by telephone — you hope to reach people directly before the news gets around otherwise.

Did I mind learning of these huge life cycle events via Facebook? Actually, not at all. Learning of my friend’s passing would have been a terrible shock whether by phone call or via Facebook, and I am not of that inner-circle who needed to hear the news personally. Pre-Facebook, I’ve had the task of making such phone calls and it was nothing short of excrutiating.

With the birth of my baby cousin, the efficiency of Facebook has allowed the new parents and grandparents to focus their energy on the baby – not on returning phone calls – with the added benefit of a constant stream of Facebook messages with offers of encouragement, love (and food!).

What about those not on social media or who only open Facebook occasionally?  Families will hopefully think about who is – and is not – likely to see postings on Facebook. And those on Facebook will likely tell others in conversation.  News always has a way of traveling.

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