Recently, I’ve been increasingly fascinated by social media’s reaction to tragedy. I say “fascination” not because I’m whimsically enthralled by the notion, but because I find it unsettling how it captures my attention. A natural disaster. A shooting. A local teen in a car accident.
When tragedy strikes, it seems everyone has something to say.
My younger brother died when I was a senior in college. He was my best friend and an amazing human being. Backstory aside, this was the first time I became aware of how powerful social media can play in to grief.
Let’s start with the fact that before my family and I had time to digest what had happened and talk to family members, it had for some reason been broadcasted by local authority.
Cue the social media lamentations.
I looked at my newsfeed in horror at 7 a.m. the next morning, not having had any sleep, as an outpouring of condolences flooded my newsfeed. I hadn’t said a word to anyone, and my cousin had to find out the tragic news through a status update from a girl she hadn’t talked to since high school.
It was the most panic-stricken I’ve ever been in my life.
Why was Facebook the first place everyone went when they heard the news? And so fast, too? I can’t speak for everyone of course, but damn, it sure felt like this delicate news became the daily special.
If you’ve ever lost a friend or a family member, this should seem somewhat familiar to you. You know this uber-anxiety that’s set off by social media networks. And while it’s easy enough to just disable Facebook or stay offline, it’s simply not as easy as it sounds.
I attribute a broad, and sometimes less-connected, version of this anxiety with larger-scale tragedies. When people don’t know how to make sense of what just happened, their reactions aren’t always as graceful or tactful as they ‘ought to be.
I wouldn’t normally be as hyper-sensitive to it all if I hadn’t experienced relatively similar panic first-hand, but I’ve had a more critical view of tragedy-based status updates like Sandy Hook. Or when a celebrity dies. Or the time I got invited to a funeral on Facebook…
Or the time I saw a status that read, “F*** newspapers. Facebook is the new place to find out who’s gettin’ married, who’s gettin’ a baby, and who’s gettin’ dead.” [Side — I defriended her soon after.]
In general, we get our news so fast these days and we could all really benefit from slowing down our reactions, especially when it comes to sensitive topics. We need to make it less about politics, less about social activism. But more importantly, we need to make it less about ourselves.
We are oversaturated with information and spew it across the internet faster than we can chew it. No one really questions it though. Because really, who’s going to be the jackass who tells everyone to stop?
I want to hold up a second and say I don’t mean to chastise those who feel they need to express themselves publically, because sometimes you do what you gotta do and no one’s situation is the same. But I do feel that these may be more meaningful ways to approach such situations on Facebook:
Speak less. Do more. Do you really feel bad about that tsunami? Donate to a relief fund before you jump on Facebook.
Be personal. Did your friend’s father pass away? Send a meaningful private message to your friend so he knows you care instead of delivering a long-winded status update eulogy.
Remember. Want to show your friend you support him? On the anniversary of his dad’s passing or maybe his birthday, send him a note letting him know you’re thinking about him and his family.
It’s crazy to think that death and tragedy were handled much differently 10 years ago. I often think of what 9/11 might have been like with Facebook around. I mean, just think of it. Absolute technological chaos on top of the already panicked nation.
We think we know how to handle things, but our means of communication are always changing. Even since my brother died two years ago, the way people deal is much different today. And who knows what that’s going to look like years down the road. Will anything be sacred anymore?
Maybe, maybe not. All I know is that we can’t stop Facebook harkening death and tragedy, but what we can do is make it less about ourselves and more about love, hope, and helping others who need us in their most desperate times.