Netiquette: Is It Okay To Tell People Someone Died In A Facebook Post?

Patrick over at Popehat relates the story of how he was advised of the death of a family member thanks to a posting on a relative’s Facebook page, and asks:

I didn’t like learning about this death on Facebook.  I didn’t like knowing about it hours before my wife knew about it.  I didn’t like knowing about it before my mother-in-law, his daughter, knew about it.  I’m quite conversant with the internet for my age, having used it since the 1980s, but learning of a family death through Facebook seems wrong.  Almost as wrong as learning of it through email.


There are some communications, it seems, that are best handled in person, or by telephone, by voice if they can’t be said in person.  I may be an irrational curmudgeon to think so, but it would never occur to me to post a tribute to my grandmother on Facebook if I weren’t absolutely certain that all of my relatives, some of whom are Facebook friends, already knew about it.

Am I alone in feeling this way?

I’ll through this one open to the readership, but I’ve got to say that I’m with Patrick on this one, and I think it’s because of a subject matter.

Over the past few years I’ve earned of several occasions — births, engagements, promotions, a new house — through email, or a text message, or post on someone’s Facebook page. In most cases, the most common way I’m likely to say “Happy Birthday” to someone I don’t deal with in person on a regular basis is through a message on their Facebook wall. And all of that seems fine to me.

Finding out that a close relative died through such an impersonal means of communication just strikes me as, well, wrong. I’d feel the same way, I think, if the news came via a voice mail message — “Hey sorry I missed you but Grandpa’s dead.” Perhaps it’s just human nature to want to have some kind of person-to-person contact when bad news is delivered, perhaps it’s just a relic of the pre-wired era. As long as I live, though, I don’t think it’s something I’ll ever find to be quite right.

FILED UNDER: Open Forum,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Linda says:

    I’m with you and Patrick, Doug. That is just wrong and tacky. I feel that passing on such news via email is tacky, but only slightly better than a Facebook post. What happened to the days of picking up the phone and calling?

  2. Rob Miles says:

    it’s a hard call. How long do you wait before saying something on Facebook? I don’t want to find out that way about a family member dying either, but it seems more and more likely to happen. Many people view FB as their primary means of communicating with others, even family members. There are some members of my family that it’s about the only way I care to communicate with.

    The whole thing about breaking bad news like death is uncomfortable for me anyway. I always feel awkward and never know exactly what to say. When my close cousin died earlier this year, I had to call my sisters and mother to tell them (his brother, with whom I’m also close, called me first and asked me to take care of my side of the family while he made the other calls.) I was too torn up about it, and could barely get the words out each time I had to say it. I can see the attraction of only having to type it out once and letting everybody know that way. It’s not right, but it sure feels a damned site easier.

  3. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    “Finding out that a close relative died through such an impersonal means of communication just strikes me as, well, wrong. ”

    Then don’t use Facebook. Problem solved.

  4. Dustin says:

    I think there are levels of detail missing here.

    If you pick into what Patrick wrote, it appears he wasn’t intentionally, directly told of the passing through Facebook, but rather, his wife’s cousin simply put his status as a tribute to his now passed grandfather. I don’t see anything wrong with that actual instance, other than it was perhaps a little to early. Is it unfortunate that Patrick found out that way, yes, but it isn’t the same as actually announcing it to family members only through Facebook.

    As to the actual question though, I think informing close friends and relatives with any sort of impersonal communication is disheartening, but I don’t think it’s wrong to inform people through that medium. There are a lot of people in our networked lives now that we only have virtual ties to. I learned just this week of an old friend’s son passing through Facebook. I would have never known otherwise, I certainly wouldn’t have been on anyone’s call list to inform of that news.

  5. Kenny says:

    Granted, learning of a death is logically going to be one of the bits of news that will be difficult for us to accept in a new context, but you have to wonder if that is an evolving thing.

    I wonder if, when the telephone became ubiquitous, people complained about learning of the deadly accident down at the factory by that newfangled contraption on the wall.

    It is interesting, the appropriateness of some mediums given a particular set of circumstances, and how (or if) those perceptions change.

  6. Maggie Mama says:

    This death couldn’t have been a shock. WWII vets are dying at a rate of 1,000 est. per day and by 2020 it is anticipated they will all have passed.

    If this was an unexpected death, ie car accident or violent crime against a young person, I can see how upsetting it might be for the family member.

    But let’s toughen up America against losses which should be expected. Patrick could have used the time to prepare to be a strong shoulder “to lean on” for his wife and the rest of the family.

  7. Generation Yer says:

    Watch out… your age is showing.