The Internet and social media have transformed the way news about deaths is broken to the loved ones of victims, reports the Baltimore Sun. Memorials on social networking sites spring up almost instantaneously, upending the traditional flow of information in situations where privacy and respect for family members have long been valued. For example, when an off-duty Baltimore police detective was killed Saturday night after being struck in the head by a piece of concrete, the officer’s young daughter learned of his death on Facebook before relatives could break it to her in person.
Police departments are grappling with this shift when dealing with the deaths of officers and homicide victims. They want to be the first to inform relatives, visiting their home or contacting another department if they are too far away to reach. It’s one of the most sensitive tasks they must perform, and police sometimes withhold the name of a murder victim from the public for weeks if a relative can’t be reached. But they have little ability to control the information once it bursts onto social networking sites. Some wonder if new monitoring tools or policies should be adopted. “Clearly, it’s the new reality of the age of social media and instantaneous communications,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.