Social Media, Tragedy and Giving Each Other a Little Room to Be Good People

001I love this kitty queue to keep a vigilant eye on a nest they can’t quite reach.

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.



17 Replies to “Social Media, Tragedy and Giving Each Other a Little Room to Be Good People”

  1. I probably won’t be popular for saying this but:
    What is so bad and/or insensitive about tweets that remind us of the fun things in life at times like this?
    Of course what happened is a tragedy and I understand people being shocked, worried, etc…
    But if we lose sight of the fun things in life and only focus on the tragedy the bad guys have won imo.

    Also: A few years ago there was a very nasty incident on Queen’s Day here in the Netherlands. Someone drove a car through a crowd in an attempt to strike out at our queen and her family. He missed the queen, but did kill 8 of the people in the crowd and there were lots of wounded.
    When I heard about it I didn’t feel like celebrating Queen’s Day anymore and went home. Friends of mine decided to go on celebrating because they didn’t see how going home would help any of those involved. It’s not that they didn’t care, but they chose to seek fun things to deal with the tragedy. Each person has his/her own way of dealing with things. Instead of judging others we should give each other room to cope in our own way.

    1. I love that take, Carien. I really think the “let’s try not to judge each other” is what I’m getting at here. There’s no right way to respond to a senseless tragedy. And you’re right – everyone copes in their own way. Seems like the least we can do is let each other do that.

      1. True. Andjust to be sure: I think this is a great post. It just saddens me that people tweeting about the good/fun things in life have to be defended by statements like ‘they didn’t know’ ‘they wouldn’t have posted if they knew’, etc… As if tweeting something fun is a crime.

        1. You make a good point, Carien. And yet, I saw a lot of people saying things like “if you’re tweeting promo right now, I’m unfollowing you.” I suppose that’s their choice to make, as Amy points out, but it is saddening.

  2. Maybe I’m just Pollyanna, but if I saw tweets coming through at a time like that I would assume they were scheduled or the tweeters hadn’t yet heard the news. Pretty simple, really.

  3. I agree. Twitter and Facebook are social media outlets. No one is forced to be on there (or even forced to follow people that set up scheduled tweets). If you don’t like following people that schedule tweets, why follow them? I was not offended at all by what people posted, scheduled or otherwise. I don’t think it is a rule that when tragedy happens we can only talk about that stuff on Twitter and Facebook, right? When I found out at work and wanted more information on the events in Boston, I went to major news websites because you can’t trust a whole lot of what is on Twitter and Facebook anyway when it comes to national news.

    1. Those are good points, Amy. I guess they’re the “rules” of certain members of the group. It’s a terribly self-righteous attitude.

  4. @#$%^! It’s insensitive to not be glued and wallowing in a tragedy for every frickin’ minute? Well, that explains why my friend – whose book made the ‘best’ lists that day – felt guilty about posting her accomplishments.

    Personally, I turned the news off and watched a Dirty Harry movie – because I needed to see someone kick bad-guy ass in the face of all that. I need to see accomplishment and heroism in the face of destruction and horror. And if that makes me insensitive… well, I’ve been called worse.

  5. Yes, please, let’s have less eagerness to judge.

    Having written that, I find it astonishingly difficult to write anything more that isn’t judgmental of the people who objected to ordinary tweets and posts.

    There’s no disrespect to the dead, the injured, or their friends in going on with our lives, I think. We face the challenge of doing so alertly, but without paranoia.

    1. Well said, Jane. Today’s nearly instant media makes it possible for us to be dramatically involved in lives and crises not our own, but who does that benefit?

  6. Just wanted to say what a wonderful post this was. I’m one of those people behind a firewall at work. (Though, I have my methods when necessary. :P) Even without the firewalls, work strips away the outside world and grabs my full attention by both ears and doesn’t let go until I walk out the door. When I DO manage to engage socially (as I’m supposed to while trying to establish a social media presence), it’s in the form of a sneak attack.

    So, thank you for saying this and being so aware.

    1. You know, Rhenna – your employer would no doubt be delighted to know that about you. Isn’t that how we’re supposed to treat our jobs, with that kind of focus? I’m glad what I said here makes sense.

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