Social media ethics and the limits of Facebook

I want to write about a topic that is quite sensitive, and I do so with total respect for all people involved. I am writing to explore how we are engaging with social media in discussing sensitive topics, and in this case: death.

Recently a friend and colleague passed away after a long battle with cancer. For the purposes of this story, I will call him “Henry”. To be clear, he wasn’t just my friend – Henry was a friend to a great number of people. His work and life touched literally hundreds of people, many of whom are not even aware of it.

I found out about Henry’s death through a Facebook post. Specifically, someone had posted “RIP Henry” within hours of his death. This was not the way that I would have liked to find out. I was first struck by the way people responded to that post by clicking ‘LIKE’. I then had to go on a hunt through Facebook to find more information. It seemed as though people had been tweeting, emailing and facebooking throughout the day about his death, and many of whom had not even met him.

I have been grappling since around whether to write about this, how I might write about it, and indeed when is the right time. Henry’s life was completely dedicated to issues of social change, justice and ethics. My most recent conversations with him over the last couple of months of his life were about ethics, and in many senses our work together over the past three years ignited the passion in me that led to the creation of this blog. I am sure that he would not have wanted me to shy away from this.

Henry was also not shy in talking about Read more