How should I tell them?

August 5, 2020
Helpful Advice

Posting Bad News Online

When was the last time you got bad news? What did you do when you got it? More specifically, how did you decide whom to share it with and how to share it?

When announcing bad news like a cancer diagnosis, it can be tough to decide the best way to share it. On one hand, if you post on social media you'd have the news pop-up next to the latest celebrity gossip. On the other hand, the emotional toll of repeating the same bad news in person over and over again can just be too draining at the time.


Posting on social media definitely has its upsides. It can save time and heartache by efficiently sharing the news to large groups of people. It also seems that we use our online profiles to create an image of ourselves that we want to share with the world. Writer Suleika Jaouad (author of one of the blogs in our "5 Fantastic Cancer Support Blogs to Follow") found a sort of release when she synced up her digital self with her real life self. In her article she discusses the ways that posting updates about her journey with cancer let her take control of her image.

This method also gives recipients of the bad news a buffer zone. They have valuable time and space to think about the news. They can also choose the best way to respond to it or choose not to respond to it at all. In another New York Times article, author Christina Valhouli demonstrates the value of posting information on Facebook by highlighting the drawbacks of the alternatives. The people she talked with explained that it was too draining to call everybody one by one and repreat the same bad news over and over again. Having this difficult conversation with your entire social network can quickly become an aching pain.


I do still have my reservations about this method for announcements. For example, even the act of sharing bad news can amplify the negative feelings associated with the news. In her article, Jaouad also talks about the conflict between cheapening the news by sharing it on Facebook and the supposed lie of not updating Facebook with recent information. I do not agree with this responsibility that you have to your Facebook followers. A smaller concern is the permanence of the announcement. I'd likely be in a rough emotional state and wouldn't want to leave a lasting record of things said when I was very upset. Dr. Carole Lieberman (in Valhouli's article) said that posting this sort of news on Facebook is a form of bravado. Essentially, you're claiming that these emotions are as valuable to you as an update on what you had for lunch. Dr. Lieberman goes on to say that by preventing yourself from feeling these feelings you are disrupting the grieving process. This denial of emotions can be very unhealthy.


It's important to note that these are my views and they are definitely influenced by the way I choose my Facebook friends, which has sometimes been called "frivolous" (thanks, mom). The way you share your personal information is ultimately up to you. You should do what you feel most comfortable with. With that in mind, it may help to remember a few tips:

The timing of the announcement is important. You may want to share immediately after getting the news, then become overwhelmed by the sudden flood of people reaching out to you while you are undergoing treatment

 I would recommend reaching out in a more personal way to your closest friends and family members before announcing the news on Facebook

Once you've made the post you're basically committing to updating regularly. After the diagnosis has been announced, silence from you can be a troubling sign! 

An example of a post that I would consider sensitive and thoughtful is below:

Fictionalized Facebook post

No matter how you do it, it's clear that sharing information or asking for help online can be awkward and even hurtful. One way to clearly send the message and give people the option of helping in a tactful and not embarrassing manner is to use and share the tools that Wellist offers you. Your registry and personal Wellist allow you to automatically update your followers in a targeted and non-invasive manner. 


Do you have any experience giving or receiving bad news on Facebook? How did it make you feel? Do you think it was the best way to handle the situation? What are your tips for sharing effectively? 

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