Netiquette for Dealing with Illness, Death, and Grief: Has COVID-19 impacted the rules?

Dr Carla Sofka, Siena College (New York)

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, etiquette is “the customary code of polite behavior in society”. Due to the increased use of digital technology and social media as a tool for coping with life-threatening illness, impending death, grief, and tragedy (thanatechnology), this code has been adapted to provide guidance for online behavior during these life events. Familiarity among helping professionals with this “netiquette” will help to facilitate positive experiences for the dying and bereaved who choose to use thanatechnology.

Based on information gained through original research, reviews of the literature (scholarly as well as the popular press), and personal experience, the presenter will share a compilation of “netiquette” to guide online behavior during times of impending death, grief, and tragedy, paying particular attention to how these guidelines have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussion will focus on the sharing of “bad news” (including death notification), grieving online, providing support to the bereaved, the taking and sharing of images (including funeral selfies), and livestreaming a funeral or memorial service. Implications for clinical practice regarding the assessment of thanatechnology use among the dying and bereaved will be discussed. Strategies to incorporate “netiquette” into public death education for the lay public and for professionals will be shared. Implications for future research will be identified.

Speaker Bio

Dr. Carla Sofka is a professor of social work at Siena College in Loudonville, NY who previously worked in geriatric, medical, psychiatric, and hospice settings. Since the mid 1990’s, her research has focused on the role of thanatechnology (digital and social media) in coping with illness, death, and grief. She co-edited Dying, Death, and Grief in an Online Universe: For Counselors and Educators and educates students, professionals, hospice volunteers, and the public about the importance of planning for one’s digital assets and communicating one’s wishes about one’s digital legacy. Dr. Sofka is a past president of Association for Death Education and Counseling

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