Annie Boyd | Dispatch Notice – a sign of the times?
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Dispatch Notice – a sign of the times?

Dispatch Notice – a sign of the times?

For the fourth time in recent years I’ve just had the horrible experience of discovering that a friend – who I’ll call Joe Bloggs – has died by reading a post on a social network. On this occasion it was LinkedIn.

‘It is with great sadness that we share the news that Joe Bloggs passed away suddenly on Tuesday night.

Whaaaaaat? Oh no. Not Joe Bloggs. I saw him on Monday. He’s got two young kids. Oh god. The panic rising as I frantically click the link of the source to see what other information is available. At this point I find a photo and discover that it’s a different Joe Bloggs. Not the one I know, another Joe.

Relief floods over me.

Then a wave of sympathy for those who clicked the link and discovered that the Joe they care for has gone. Geez it REALLY SUCKS to find out that someone you love has died via a post online. Somehow it feels colder and unnatural to read about it in the stream of LinkedIn, twitter or Facebook posts nestled amongst people’s new puppy pictures and award announcements. I understand why people share as they may not have contact details or can’t face all those conversations…. but so soon?

Death is the one thing we’re all guaranteed in life and as I age the notifications that loved ones, friends, colleagues or neighbours have kicked the bucket, fallen off their perch, bitten the dust, and are pushing up daisies become more frequent. I use these silly slang terms because frankly if I didn’t laugh I’d cry, especially when the people who died were young and still had lots of living to do.

I wonder if it was as shocking an experience years ago when death notices were placed in the ‘hatches, matches and dispatches’ section of the local paper? I guess it might have been but then you knew what to expect when opening that column. And there would have been a few days grace for the phone calls to be made, or letters to be sent or visits with those who needed to be told face to face. Only then would it filter through the wider community.

In this digital world everything is instant. There are great benefits to the speed of sharing messages in this way such as sourcing donations for the victims of the Grenfell Tower, or for less emotive examples a young musician plugging their latest gig, a fashion brand showcasing new stock, or a library encouraging parents to bring their kids to Book Bugs. The ‘How To’ of social media is relatively straight forward to pick up regardless of how digitally minded you are.

The challenge is us humans. What’s missing is the pause button because no matter how smart the technology gets in reading sentiment or understanding behaviour patterns it can only measure activity after the ‘Send’ button has been pressed. If only there was an algorithm that picked up the vibe of the person typing into their screen and a warning box flashed up stating;

  • Hang on – is this your news to share?
  • Would a phone call be a better option?
  • You’re angry/ emotional/ irrational right now. Step away from the keyboard.
  • Remember that policy you signed at work – could you get fired for this update?
  • Can you trust the source – is this information accurate or are you damaging someone’s reputation by spreading false claims?


Maybe I need to toughen up, or maybe I should pair up with a software company and gel our knowledge of tech and emotional intelligence. We could create a system for those who want to opt out of receiving ‘death of a loved one’ notifications online? It could be worth a fortune.

For now, I’ll have to accept that reading about ‘dispatches’ on social media is the new norm and that it will undoubtedly happen again.

Struggling with grief? You may find comfort in this article about A Tribute to Life

Bamboozled by social media policy and crisis management? Read Responsibility, Sharing Knowledge and Community.


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