Your friends and family are going to die. Probably later, but maybe sooner. That much is certain. Another certainty is that, when it happens, we'll all still be using some form of social media. Here's how to grieve digitally, with dignity.
As much as Facebook is the sprawling, glowing, inexorable way we connect with each other these days—around the clock—death just doesn't really belong there. Facebook is designed specifically to make you feel proud about yourself. Timeline is a monument to your joys and achievements, no matter how superficial and beer-soaked they may have been. It's a place to share your glee—share it all over everyone's faces, whether they like it or not.
That's okay. Toast to the nice things while you have 'em. The new job! Like like like. A picture of your baby: "Your baby is so cute!" These things are fine and we usually like looking at them.
We've told you how to navigate general bad news on the 'book. But death? Death has no place on Facebook. The idea is to talk about interesting things in your life. Death isn't interesting (unless it's a reviled politician, an exciting celebrity overdose, or you, personally). Aunts and grandpas—not interesting. It's just bleak, and sorrowful, and deeply, profoundly intimate—adjectives not meant for the Zuckerberg megaphone.
That doesn't mean you can't deal with the dead online. In fact, there are some perfectly fine ways to mourn via laptop.
Facebook actually can be used to honor the dead—but for God's sake (and Uncle Fred's), make it private. Very private. As private as possible. Don't just throw up an RIP ________ Facebook status and see how many of your friends just scroll on past. Don't let one half of your network cringe while the other half "likes" the fact that this beloved person is dead. Strangers don't belong at a virtual funeral.
Instead, honor the person by making a small, private Facebook group accessible by invitation only. Include only the people who knew and cared about the recently deceased. Use it as a place to share memories with people you can't see face to face—a sort of Facebook wake. Wakebook? Too crass. Keep the group online as a place for the members to return and visit when they want to remember their friend.
Move aside, ornate wedding cakes and dazzling hairdos—a Pinterest page can also be a temple of the dead. Make a private board that can only accept contributions from the fellow online bereft. Pin photos of the dead, scan their letters, post their best recipes. Whatever. Pin up anything makes that dead person seem less dead for just a little bit. It'll easily be the most poignant thing Pinterest has ever been used for.
If cancer, HIV, or some similar bio-fuck is responsible for taking away someone who was special to you, use your followers to create a tiny splash of good in the world. Tweeting out a call for donations to a place like the American Cancer Society or a local AIDS shelter won't bring anyone back from the dead. But it could potentially change someone else's life, and it could reduce your own feeling of helplessness. Let it breathe, though. If you've just tweeted news of your latest favorite latte, wait at least an hour before tagging the next one #RIP.
User Manual is Gizmodo's guide to etiquette. It appears as if by magic every Friday.