LIVE BY DESIGN | Navigating the tension between grief, privacy, and boundaries on social media

I’m currently witnessing the grieving of six people in my immediate circle. One is grieving after the loss of a beloved family dog, a longtime friend who has been a part of the family for years. Another is mourning after the loss of their trusted house manager, a person who played a significant role in their daily lives. There is also someone grieving after the tragic and untimely loss of their son, taken from them far too soon. And then there’s another person mourning their daughter after she died suddenly, leaving them with an unfillable void. Additionally, we have someone who just recently lost their father and another who is mourning their dear grandmother.

As grief educator David Kessler once said: “Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint. But what everyone has in common is that no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed. That doesn’t mean needing someone to try to lessen it or reframe it for them. The need is for someone to be fully present to the magnitude of their loss without trying to point out the silver lining.”

Theirs is a deeply personal experience that they are going through differently. For three of them, social media has provided an outlet to share their grief openly and seek support from a wider community. However, as expected with these platforms, there is tension between their right to grieve openly and the need for privacy and boundaries.

While social media can offer a platform for the expression of grief and where support can be received, it can be a breeding ground for negativity and hurtful comments. It’s disheartening to see individuals who are already in a vulnerable state being subjected to such cruelty.

Three weeks ago, the wife of a well-known South African international composer and producer shared a heartfelt photo on her Instagram account. The image depicted her sitting on the grave of her stepson, taken during a family visit to commemorate his birthday. However, this post was later deleted and replaced with an explanation as to why she had initially shared it. It became evident from her explanation that she had received harsh feedback in response to her expression of grief.

Although it is important to note that the couple’s recent announcement of their divorce may not be directly linked to this incident, it is possible that the negative reception of her emotional post played a role. Grieving is a deeply personal and complex process, and individuals often seek solace and support through various outlets, including social media.

1. Education

By raising awareness about the impact of hurtful comments on grieving individuals, we can help people understand the importance of empathy and sensitivity in online interactions. Educate others about the unique nature of grief and the need for compassion during these difficult times.

2. Encourage positive dialogue

Actively promote constructive and empathetic conversations surrounding grief. Encourage individuals to share their own experiences, offer support, and provide kind words to those who are grieving. This sets a positive tone and encourages others to do the same.

3. Moderate and report 

Online platforms should have clear guidelines against hate speech and harmful behaviour. Encourage individuals to report any hurtful comments or abusive behaviour they come across. Platforms should take swift action to remove such content and address the perpetrators accordingly.

4. Practise empathy 

Encourage individuals to put themselves in the shoes of the griever and imagine how hurtful comments may deepen their pain. Remind people to approach online interactions with empathy, kindness, and respect, even if they might not fully understand another person’s grief.

As social media continues to play a significant role in our lives, we must navigate the tension between the right to grieve openly and the need for privacy and boundaries. Respect for individual choices, empathy, and understanding are crucial in promoting a healthy online environment. Let’s foster a culture that values the diversity of grieving processes and commends those brave enough to share their vulnerability while also ensuring privacy and boundaries are respected.

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