You all know I’m on the internet pretty much all the time. I work from home for my day job, so I have my personal laptop on Twitter while I work, in case something interesting happens. For a break, I’ll pop over to FaceBook to see what’s going on. I prefer to keep up with emails as they come in, so I keep an eye on my personal email In-Box along with my work one.
I’m lucky this way. I have unfettered access to my wireless network. If something funny occurs to me, I can tweet it right then. If someone posts an NSFW link (Not Safe For Work), I can click on it. No firewall stops me. No one looks over my shoulder. When people ask me how I have so much time for social media, this is why. Sometimes I turn off the internet if I need to concentrate and can’t afford distractions, but mostly I dabble throughout the day.
So, yesterday, within ten minutes of the bombs going off at the finish line at the Boston Marathon, I saw a tweet about it. I don’t always see stuff that fast, but someone I follow happened to post it and I happened to glance right then. The company I work for is based in Boston and I have a lot of connections there, so it caught my eye.
It’s interesting to watch things ramp up, as more and more people become aware. There’s a lot of very good trading of information. There’s also expressions of thoughts and prayers. Soon the tweetstream overruns with nothing else. With a few glaring exceptions.
The tweets NOT about the unfolding tragedy begin to stand out in stark relief. They can be jarring – someone’s book release, a tweet about a fascinating thing a speaker said, a picture of a statue at a museum.
There are two things going on here: 1) people schedule tweets to post during the day while they’re at work or school or whatever. 2) people are at conferences and museums, posting interesting stuff, but paying attention to what they’re doing, not what people are saying on Twitter.
But, in the heightened emotional sea of the people who are glued to what’s going on, they see these diversions as distracting, and worse, a sign of self-absorption.
Thus the castigating began. People were posting tweets like “anyone posting promo for their book at a time like this ought to be ashamed of themselves.” A prominent publishing figure on Twitter said “People, now is the time to pull your scheduled tweets,” one I saw RT’d over and over.
Well, it’s lovely for her that she thinks it’s so easy. She is another who is online all the time and has unfettered access to the internet. A whole lot of people out there simply do not. They are not allowed to access FaceBook from work. They are behind government or private firewalls that provide security but prevent them from signing into something like Twitter. Their choices are to be silent on social media all day or schedule posts. For people working hard to promote their new book, being silent isn’t an ideal choice.
The thing is, most of the time, these scheduled tweets are invisible in the stream. They look like the same thing everybody else is saying. Only when the mass voice of Twitter shifts to something like yesterday’s tragedy, do they stand out like proverbial sore thumbs. I saw one guy comment that he hates scheduled tweets and their inappropriateness at those times makes him hate them more. My bet is that he doesn’t know which ones are scheduled most of the time. I also bet he can access the internet whenever he wants.
So, as people were dog-piling on these “selfish” tweeters, I noticed two of my friends who were going to draw negative attention. One was at a tourism conference and she was tweeting all sorts of fascinating facts. The other was at a museum, posting interesting photos of things he was seeing. Very normal for both of them, but it looked insensitive. Both are lovely, empathetic people, so I knew they had no idea. I ended up texting both of them on their phones, so they could stop – and both were grateful for the heads up.
But, I think I shouldn’t have had to do this. I think there’s a lot of room for us to be tolerant of each other. It’s easy, especially when emotions are strong and there’s nowhere to channel them, to make assumptions about people’s motivations and abilities. It seems that, especially in the face of tragedy, we could maybe give people the benefit of the doubt. Pretty much nobody is so insensitive that they’ll be chattering about their book or a conference speaker while people are posting photos of the bomb scenes. It’s clear the person doesn’t know. If scheduled tweets are continuing, maybe we can figure that the person can’t sign in to pull them. It might be good to practice assuming the best of people, rather than the worst.
Yesterday, while people were expressing despair and horror, they were also passing around this quote ascribed to Mr. Rogers:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”
And people pointed out how many rescuers – police, medical folks, runners, civilians – immediately ran to help. There are a lot of good people out there. Most of us are good people. Most of us try to be better people.
Maybe we should assume that, first.