11

Recently a prominent user in an online community died, and some of the users have come together in various ways to share memories and comfort each other. I'm not involved, but observing it made me wonder how users and leaders in a community can best manage this process at a time when everybody's feeling a little fragile. It's likely that this will, unfortunately, happen to an online community that I am deeply involved in eventually, and I'd like to gain some insight into better or worse ways to handle it.

The community (which I'm deliberately not linking; please let's keep this general) is using a shared chat room. As far as I know no relatives of the deceased are there now, just community users, though it's all public. I've seen some behavior that seems like it could make some community members, and relatives were they to come across it, uncomfortable, including:

  • Speculation about the cause of death, which wasn't reported. One person went so far as to comment on the person's physical appearance (in a photo) and speculate negatively based on that.

  • Extended transference -- "this reminds me of this thing that happened to my {friend, relative}...", which seems to deflect the content that people actually came there for.

  • Comments criticizing people doing the above as insensitive, and ensuing responses.

One approach to this kind of situation is to say that the community members need space to react in their own way, and that trying to steer or moderate this activity is counter-productive. Another approach is to say that it's even more important than usual to steer or moderate such conversations, because of the sensitive nature of the situation. My limited knowledge about comforting mourners applies to in-person situations, not online.

What's the best way to handle online grieving, on a spectrum from "anything goes" to "carefully and sensitively moderated"?

1
9

One approach to this kind of situation is to say that the community members need space to react in their own way, and that trying to steer or moderate this activity is counter-productive.

This is simply incorrect. One of the reasons behind having organized funerals, run by priests or funeral directors outside of the family, is because people need a structured way to express their grief. Moderators could and should play a similar role online. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Create an announcement and ask people to share positive memories about the community member.
  2. Contact the family and offer your consolations. You could include examples of the contributions the community member made.
  3. Organize the community and donate money to a charity in the name of the community member.

I've seen some behavior that seems like it could make some community members, and relatives were they to come across it, uncomfortable.

Then why aren't you doing something about it? The behaviour you described is rude, insensitive, and would not be tolerated off-line.

I would avoid publicly drawing attention to the behaviour (as you yourself said, people who knew the deceased could easily be upset if they saw it). Instead, quietly delete the offending content and reprimand the community members who created it. I would also consider writing something along the lines of "please be respectful during this sensitive time" in the location where this is being discussed.

Comments criticizing people doing the above as insensitive, and ensuing responses.

Community members with no moderation powers should not have to step in to defend a community member after the said community member just died. The days and weeks after the death should be a time for the community to collectively grieve, and the moderators have a duty to make sure that is possible. To do otherwise is incredibly rude to the people who care about this community member.


You should also verify the community member's death.

0

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.