New Digital Death Data: ‘Breaking Bad News’ in a Social Media World

Social media could soon be sounding the death knell for the sympathy card according to one in ten UK adults.

  • 1 in 8 adults have posted online to notify others about the death of a loved one
  • 1 in 5 adults want loved ones to post online notify others about their own death
  • 1 in 3 agree that with the rise of social media less people send sympathy cards

Key findings

The report, which is the second in a series of studies looking at death in the digital era, highlights that the nation is increasingly turning to social media to break the news that a loved one has passed. Over a tenth (13%) of UK adults have personally posted online to update others about the death of a loved one, whilst a quarter (25%) say they wouldn’t have known someone had died if it hadn’t been shared on social.

Highlighting that this is an increasing trend for the future, a fifth of us would want a loved one to post online when we pass away and a quarter (23%) of 18-24 year-olds have already updated online friends about a death.

When looking at who people will post online about, findings show that we are most likely to post about a family member (19%). However sharing news about the loss of a friend (15%) or partner (13%) also led us online. Furthermore, celebrity deaths triggered a post from over a tenth (12%) of UK adults.

When delving into the reasons UK adults posted online to notify others about the death of a loved one:

  • Half (47%) of adults took the online approach as it was the quickest way to let people know
  • Two fifths (45%) did so to express how they felt about the person
  • A quarter (25%) said an online update was the only way they could let some people know
  • A fifth (18%) did so to stop online friends from contacting the deceased online
  • A fifth (18%) worried they’d see people and have to let them know in person
  • A fifth (17%) wanted to see nice comments in response to their post
  • Over a tenth (16%) said their loved one lived their life online, so it made sense to
  • A tenth (9%) said they posted just because everyone else does

 

Regarding the online sites UK adults have used to post online about the death of a loved one, Facebook is most popular with four fifths (84%) of adults saying this was where they posted. A further fifth (18%) took to twitter and over a tenth (13%) created a dedicated online memorial site. Perhaps reflecting the nation’s love of social media, the following channels were also used:

 

  • 11% of UK adults would post on Instagram
  • 8% would write a specific blog post
  • 5% would provide an update on LinkedIn
  • 5% would Snapchat

David Collingwood, Head of Operations for Co-op Funeralcare commented:

“With people increasingly using social media to update on everyday life, it’s no surprise that online sites are more frequently being used as forums to update on the news of someone passing away.

“Our study reveals that 33% of those adults who want their loved ones to post online when they pass away have already let someone know that this is their wish or communicated it in their funeral plan. I think that’s really important – we all deal with grief in different ways and my advice would be to consider if an online post is what your late loved one would have wanted and whether there is a risk of upsetting friends and family members by doing so.”

Jennie Bond, Journalist, Broadcaster and Royal Correspondent commented:

“During my career as a journalist, broadcaster and Royal Correspondent, it was my responsibility to report on births, deaths, marriages and everything in between. “In my role, striking the right balance of sensitivity could be challenging. This is why I find it fascinating that due to the increasing use of social media, our views on posting about people passing away are beginning to change. There aren’t the same sensitivities surrounding breaking bad news on our social pages it seems. This is reflected in Co-op’s study by the fact that 1 in 10 people see posting online about someone’s death as ‘normal’.”

Research was conducted in January on behalf of Co-op by ICM among 2000 UK adults