How should we approach social media when grieving or when supporting another in their grief journey?

Social Media, Ethics, and Grief

by Ron Davis, LSW, MSW

Published March 29th, 2018

Chances are, sometime during the reading of this blog, or even right now, you will click another open window on your computer or minimize this window on your smartphone or tablet and check your social media account on the selected device of your choice. No, I did not read your mind, but statistics show that is what you are doing or thinking about doing for a large portion of your day.

"With social media playing such an influential role in our personal and workplace communications, it’s important to understand how social media might impact us during more trying times — more specifically, when we grieve." Ron Davis, LSW, MSW Tweet

We spend a great deal of time on social media, and the time we spend communicating through social platforms far outweighs the time spent using other channels of communication, like phone calls, letter writing, and even face-to-face communication.

Additionally, over 60% of social media time is spent via use of a smartphone. With all this social media use, how does this affect our ability to work? Per the National Business Ethics Survey of 2015, the average worker that utilizes social media spends over 30% of their work day on social media. That’s over 2 hours per day.

With social media playing such an influential role in our personal and workplace communications, it’s important to understand how social media might impact us during more trying times — more specifically, when we grieve.

Social Media as a Positive Engagement Force

A recent study by leading social scientist David Maxfield found that 3 out of 5 people who use social media at work report having improved work relationships and show higher levels of engagement. One of the greatest areas of need for people going through grief are support networks. However, these support networks don’t necessarily have to be in-person groups.

The advent of social media allows many people to remain anonymous to those in the public while seeking support from others going through the same experiences. For example, going on Facebook and typing in the search bar the word “grief” and then clicking on “groups,” a person will find thousands of available groups to join about grief.

Chances are that no one knows you when you join, but many share the same experience as you and the desire to find others to engage with outside of their work associates or even family in an attempt to help cope with grief. Engaging via social media has the same effects on a person’s self-esteem as much as interaction with a person face to face.

Social Media as a Socialization Driver

Socialization plays a huge role in our ability to achieve high rates of well-being, which helps drive our ability to cope with stress, anxiety, and grief. In the book, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, author Tom Rath states that, on average, a person needs to obtain 6 hours of socialization throughout an entire day to achieve high levels of social well-being. This includes utilization of email, texting, and social media.

Often times, individuals posting to a social media account are using the resource as an online journal in hopes that someone might like their comment or respond in an effort to normalize what they are thinking or experiencing at the time. This can result in both positive and negative outcomes for the individual.

Positive outcomes might involve seeing comments that normalize feelings, provide uplifting feedback, and encourage the individual that they will get through the challenges they face. Unfortunately, the experience might also lead to negative experiences — such as a lack of responses, negative reactions, or hurtful messages — which might exacerbate the isolating feelings experienced during the grief process.

Social Media as a Value Set

Social media use also affects our view on ethics. It is very common today for a human resources professional to view a person’s social media profile when considering a person for a job and to determine whether or not a potential new hire will positively represent the company brand.

Additionally, colleges have integrated the review of incoming students’ social media profiles into their admissions process to ensure that students display the character traits desired by the school. This is so prevalent in companies and life that the term “creeping” has been coined for this type of investigative activity.

Social Media as a Communication Tool

Social media is becoming a mainstay as a communication tool. One can look no further than at the youth of today and find them using the Facebook Messenger app or Snapchat messaging features as their form of communication before even thinking of texting someone or calling a friend via their cell phone. These formats help create the security of anonymity for the individual.

In discussing grief, this can be beneficial as many individuals going through it would rather that others not know about it. Social media provides that format for an individual to communicate under the radar without some of their closest friends or family knowing they are communicating to others or receiving communication from them.

The Fingertip Rule

How I advise social media posts for other people is much like I remember in my own high school dress policy. For both guys and girls it was the “fingertip” rule. Dresses and shorts had to go down past your fingertip. People tried to be sneaky and talk themselves into the outfit being appropriate however they could. If you have to talk yourself into it, you probably shouldn’t post it on social media.

This is the same advice I’d use for social media posting. Once you click “send,” be ready to defend your statement if you’re questioned, and realize that what is posted is out there for everyone to see, possibly share with others, and reflects directly upon you.

Final Tips

As social media relates to grief, we need to be extra careful. Read what you’re about to post. Before you click send, ask yourself the following questions, and if you feel good about the answers, continue with the post — but be prepared if someone misinterprets your intentions.

  • Does this post help make me feel better about my situation?

  • Will what I post help anyone else in any way?

  • Can I fully support the contents within this post?

  • Could this post put my job or relations with coworkers in jeopardy?

  • Does this post negatively affect my family members?

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About Ron Davis

Ron Davis, LSW, MSW is the Support Services Director at Crossroads Hospice and Palliative Care in Green, OH.

Ron Davis, LSW, MSW

Support Services Director at Crossroads Hospice and Palliative Care in Green, OH

Ron Davis, LSW, MSW is the Support Services Director at Crossroads Hospice and Palliative Care in Green, OH. In addition to his dedicated work with patients and caregivers, Ron is an Assistant Professor at the University of Akron and is a proud board member of The Grief Care Place in Stow, Ohio. Ron enjoys helping others pursue improved health and wellness, writing, and spending time with his wife and two boys.

References

  1. Hyatt, James. “The Ethics of Social Media – Part II: Playing by New Rules.” Business Ethics, 14 Dec. 2010, business-ethics.com/2010/11/19/the-ethics-of-social-media-part-ii-playing-by-new-rules/.
  2. Mansfield, Matt. “Social Media Statistics 2016 – Small Business Trends.” Small Business Trends, 27 Nov. 2016, smallbiztrends.com/2016/11/social-media-statistics-2016.html.
  3. Patterson, Kerry, et al. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. McGraw-Hill, 2012.
  4. Rath, Tom, and James K. Harter. Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements. Gallup Press, 2014.
  5. Rogers, Kate. “The Case for Embracing Social Media at Work.” Fox Business, 8 Jan. 2016, www.foxbusiness.com/features/2014/05/01/case-for-embracing-social-media-at-work.html.

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