I cannot take it anymore. This is the first in a series on social media etiquette. I work and interact in social media. I’ve seen a lot. Much of it is good, some is bad, and occasionally, it’s horrid. I find myself saying, Whiskey Tango Facebook far too often. I’ve made errors myself and, I’ve learned from them. If you choose to read this, know that it comes from first hand experience. Hopefully this advice will cause you to think before you post.
The event that precipitated this post is something that I’ve seen time and again. In fact, it’s happened to me. Yesterday, another friend found out about his parent’s hospitalization via a public Facebook post. It upset him, it upset me and it’s time someone writes about it. I tend to eschew the posting of social media “rules” but, some basic SoMe etiquette guidance is obviously in order. One should never find out about the serious illness or death of a close friend of family member via social media…EVER!
In my experience, the offenders of this rule are not the much maligned millennials. I have some words of wisdom for them also but this particular post is directed at those older and ahem, wiser folks. So, let’s get to the meat of the matter.
There is no way to dance around this; some families are dysfunctional. Sometimes there are family issues so messy that it precludes a personalized phone call. I understand this. Still, it is simply unacceptable to find out about the serious illness of a relative on Facebook. Posting about a death before all family members and close friends have been notified is also verboten. It should go without saying but, it happens. A text message is not ok either (unless you all decide as a family that this is how you will communicate). A serious illness, hospitalization and especially a death require a phone call. Yes, I said “require.”
Requirements though are often dismissed when there is a family dynamic such that certain people do not “speak” to one another. If that’s your situation, you must find a solution that takes this into account. If you know that a phone call is impossible, you must have another plan. First, I suggest that you find an impartial person (an aunt or uncle, niece or nephew) that is designated as the communications person for the family. I encourage having a back up person as well. This sounds simple but it can be a bit complex as the designated “comms” person will have to have HIPAA authority, (legal authority to obtain private medical information), as to the status of the health of the family member. Without getting too far in the weeds, HIPAA is the law that protects patient confidentiality. Everyone should have a person or two that is designated (in writing), to be the recipient of a patient’s medical information. In other words, have a point person for medical personnel to be able to legally disclose medical information to. Most hospitals and Dr. Offices will have HIPAA waiver forms. The forms must be filled out before there is an emergent situation. A copy must be on file with the patient’s hospital and Dr but I also suggest that the family communications person also carry a hard copy of the HIPAA release with them. All of this requires some pre emergency planning.
For the severely dysfunctional family that can not manage a phone call, here’s an idea worth exploring and yes, it involves Facebook. You can create a closed Facebook group for such eventualities. You need not even be Facebook friends to be in a group together. Such a group, for example, could be called “The Smith Family Medical Group.” Everyone sets their notifications for the group to ON. The person who is the designated communicator can then post the details of an illness or other emergency in that group. When I say details, I do so purposefully. The post should include ALL the specifics of what is known about the patient. The following could be an example of such a post:
“Dear All: This is to let you know that Dad (Jim) is at Cedar General Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His Dr. Is Susan Jones, M.D. The phone number to the nurse’s station is 555-555-5555. He is currently in the surgical ward being evaluated for possible gallstones. He is stable and they are managing his pain. He had an ultrasound and they are discussing the benefits and risks of a possible surgery. If they decide to go forward with the surgery, they will do it via laparoscopy so the incisions and the recovery time will be easier. He’s also on intravenous antibiotics (and they do know of his allergy to Penicillin). He’s currently on a liquid only diet. The surgeon will evaluate him at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time tomorrow, Tuesday, June 5th. We will know more then and I will update in this group immediately after we know something more.
Dr. Jones asks that family not call his room at this time as he is sedated from the pain medication and sleep is the best thing for him. I am the point person and Joe is the back up. One of us will keep you informed if anything changes prior to the above appointment. If you have any questions, please post below and I will ask the Dr. tomorrow. That’s what we know at the moment. He’s doing fine, is not in horrible pain and they will decide on a treatment plan tomorrow. I will be in touch shortly thereafter. As specified in our group rules (above in the doc), please LIKE or comment once you have seen this. Please do not post anything in the public timeline on social media until all group members have seen this. After that, remember dad’s wishes for privacy and keep everything on social media in general terms.
Thanks all. Tracy. “
In other words, if you go this route, be specific, clear and cautious. Take time to think of all of the questions you would have if you were on the receiving end of such a message. DO have some group rules decided upon before hand and posted in the group document. It’s not ideal, but with so many extended families, dysfunctional families and people that do not use common sense on social media, it’s the best I could come up with. Perhaps you can think of something better. If so, go for it but whatever you decide, make sure all family members (yes, even that person) knows, is on board, and that the “rules” are clear.
Oddly enough the aforementioned, much maligned millennials seem to have grasped some of the SoMe etiquette better than the Gen Xers, the in-betweeners and the Baby Boomers. Worry not. I have equal generational critique enough to go around. For example, I plan on addressing how the (much maligned) millennials have no freaking clue how to write a snail mail thank you note. That is another post entirely and one I plan on writing soon.
Please, do not wait until this becomes an issue for your family. Make a plan, set up some guidelines and make sure all concerned persons are on board. Duke it out before there is an illness, accident or death. When that time comes, it’s stressful enough without letting SoMe drama exacerbate the already stressful time. No one ought to be the recipient of bad news regarding a family member via social media. Share this post far and wide. Get a plan, and use it. Please and thank you.