Two digital experts, one focused on behavior and the other on technology and law, agree—it’s time for guidelines on digital death, from Directive Communication Systems.
"We are still in the Wild West of the digital age, so people don’t know that what they’re doing can be harmful. Well-meaning people don’t know they can innocently stir up emotions, cause others to lose financial and sentimental property and even encourage fraud. "
A mother is told to go to the hospital after learning that her son has been in a bad car crash. When she arrives, the waiting area is filled with somber high school students. They knew about the crash before she did.
Two digital experts, one focused on behavior and the other on technology and law, agree—it’s time for guidelines on digital death.
Lee Poskanzer, founder of Directive Communication Systems and Dr. Carla Sofka, Professor of Social Work at Siena College and co-editor of “Dying, Death and Grief in an Online Universe,” offer ten tips on grief and loss for the digital world:
1 – Think before you tweet, post or pin. If it’s not your spouse or partner, your parent or your child, a death is not your story to share. This is about privacy and personal ownership. Digital users expect to share news as it happens, but death notification is a private matter.
2 – Don’t sensationalize another person’s tragedy. Sharing grim details can be disturbing and painful. Images and recordings should not be posted without the express permission of the family.
3 – Find out what the family’s wishes are before posting anything. It’s important to know what the family wants to share and what they would prefer to keep out of the public eye.
4— Be alert for fraud and tell the family if you see something online that does not seem right. Death notices are often the starting point for identity theft. Keep an eye out for impersonation of the deceased in profile posts and report them to the authorities immediately.
5 – Don’t contact social media platforms about someone else’s death. Contacting websites’ Customer Service can create significant and irreversible problems. Data, photos, cryptocurrency and emails can be permanently locked out and/or destroyed when well-meaning individuals contact digital platforms.
6 – Don’t dismiss the positive use of social media. Digital users, particularly teens, turn to social media for immediate emotional support from their online communities. By connecting with others, they feel less isolated. Try to be understanding if someone’s style of grieving is more public than yours.
7 – Accept strangers who post respectfully—they are part of the grieving community. Dr. Sofka has coined the term “experiential empathy” to describe people who are strangers to a family or a community but connect with them online because they have a shared loss.
8– Be thoughtful when sharing your message of grief and support. Be authentic and sincere. A short message that will remind others of what the person meant to you will be appreciated.
9 – Acts of kindness are always welcome. IRL (In Real Life) or online, it’s hard to go wrong when you are showing support, sharing grief and memories.
10 – Take proactive steps to protect your own family and your own digital assets for the unexpected. Speak with family members about your own wishes, regardless of your age or health. Look into what is most effective for accomplishing your goals. Create a plan for managing your digital assets after your death, including how you want your family to share the news of your passing. Note that password sharing is a violation of the Terms of Service Agreement with website owners, and could result in the loss of digital assets, including photos, videos, emails, digital artifacts, cryptocurrency and more. Consider using 3rd party services and experts in digital asset directives management to handle these personal and private matters.
Directive Communication Systems (DCS) is the market- leading guardian of digital assets. We serve estate professionals and individuals planning their estates, loved ones left behind, fiduciaries and website owners. DCS is the only digital asset and directives service to meet requirements of federal and state laws and website Terms of Service Agreements. Visit us at http://www.directivecommunications.com, Linked In, Twitter @directivecomms.
Dr. Carla Sofka is a professor of social work at Siena College in Loudonville, NY. Prior to her academic career, Dr. Sofka was a clinical social worker who worked in geriatric, medical, psychiatric, and hospice settings. She writes and teaches about the impact of technology on how society learns about and copes with life-threatening illness, death, and grief. She is a frequent speaker at conferences and conducts workshops, webinars, and podcasts. In addition to contributions to numerous journal articles and book chapters, she is a past-president of the Association for Death Education and Counseling.