Social media – sites and services such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc – are the way many people keep in touch. The news of a death is often shared on social media, sometimes before some friends or family members have found out in other ways. You may need to decide what to say about a death on social media, and how to deal with someone’s accounts after they have died. Social media sites are also often used to collect tributes to someone who has died – this can be comforting, but in some circumstances also distressing.
After the news is shared, you may have to decide what to do about your friend or relative’s social media accounts. Some sites have specific policies in place about what can happen. There are two options for Facebook accounts – they can be converted to a “remembering” page, so that you can continue to post messages for and about that person. Alternatively next of kin can ask for a person’s page to be removed.
Social media can become somewhere people share memories and tributes to someone who has died. There are many tribute sites which exist specifically so that friends and relatives can keep in touch with others who cared about their loved one. This continuing bond with a person who died can be comforting. Unfortunately, it is also possible to be anonymous online, and sometimes people post unpleasant or abusive messages. If this happens to you there may be procedures you can follow to block users or take down unpleasant messages.
You should be aware that information placed on the web cannot be controlled and becomes very public. The traditional media (newspapers, magazines, radio and television) will also be able access social networking and tribute sites and draw information from them.
Sometimes stories about a drug and alcohol-related death are reported in the media – in local or national newspapers, or on the radio or television. This can be very upsetting if you feel that the death of your relative or friend is being treated as a sensation, or used to sell papers. It can help to issue a statement, and there are some other things you can do to minimise the pressure on you, your family and your friends. If you feel you or your loved one has been treated unfairly in the media there are ways you can complain.
Talk to your immediate family and friends and decide what you are going to say, and who is going to be the family point of contact. Advise others of your wishes about contact with the media. Prepare a short statement, which could be released to the media, maybe with a photo. This may head off many queries. You can also hand it out or send it to other reporters when they approach you. You may need to issue a more formal press release. If you are contacted by a reporter, ask for proof of identity and the contact details for the publication they are representing.
Inquests [2.1b] are public events where journalists may attend and report on what has happened. Suicide notes and personal letters should only be read out at the inquest if the Coroner decides it is important. If they are read out, their contents may be reported. Photographs of the person who has died and of the scene of death may also form part of the evidence presented at the inquest. The Coroner’s office will not release any information to the media which has not already been made public through an inquest, unless the next of kin gives his or her consent.
Those working for newspapers or magazines should abide by the Editors’ Code of Practice. The Code sets out what the media should do to ensure stories are accurate, and that privacy is respected as far as possible. The code includes rules for cases involving grief and shock. Publication in these circumstances should be sensitive. The code states that when suicide is talked about care should be taken to avoid giving too much detail about the method used.
When someone dies suddenly and unexpectedly the law says there must be an investigation into what happened. This is likely to happen if drugs are involved in your friend or relative’s death. It may not be the case for an alcohol-related death following a long illness. The investigation may involve a post-mortem (doctor’s examination of the body) and an inquest (public court hearing to find out who died, how and why). There is likely to be a delay before you can hold the funeral.
A sudden or unexpected death will be reported to the Coroner by the police, a doctor or the registrar of births and deaths. The Coroner’s office should get in touch with next of kin within one day, and give you a named person to contact for updates. If a doctor cannot say what caused the person to die, the Coroner will arrange a post-mortem. This is a full examination of the body by a doctor.