Today I published a very controversial post about how we handle unexpected tragedy on social media. I used a specific, relatively recent example, and I used it as a way to show that we need to seriously think about how to include social media in how we discuss death and suicide in high-risk communities.
I’d like to make clear that I did not write and publish this post lightly. I asked other people—people with level heads and strong emotions and lots of experience with death—to read it and give me feedback. I asked when I should post it. I asked for advice. What you see is a post I published after two months of editing and thought.
The responses I got were almost entirely polarized. Some were public, some were private, but almost all were on opposite ends of the spectrum.
According to some, I was entirely without empathy, and I should absolutely not be using this tragic event as a teaching moment.
According to others, I was a beacon of reason and good thinking, and I was thanked profusely for what I wrote.
I think that the truth must be somewhere in the middle.
I do not think I was wrong to write and publish the post; I truly believe that we need to seriously consider how we handle death on social media. As to whether I should have used that particular example…I don’t know. That particular tragedy and how it was handled—and how people reacted to it—was powerful and it is the reason I wrote this post in the first place.
The post was never intended to hurt anybody, but effect always trumps intent, so I own that.
I will not take the post down. I have done a quick edit to try to vague it up as much as I could in this moment, tried to make it more general. I am open to suggestions about how to generalize it further without losing the power and the context of it—because while I am deeply sympathetic to those experiencing their loss and grief, I am also attempting to tell a story from the perspective of people who were anticipating grief and heartbreak with no information as to whether that grief and heartbreak was theirs, this time.
I have been informed, by the way, by the two different poles of this argument, that our feelings did matter and that our feelings, in fact, didn’t. I think that this also falls somewhere in the middle.
So, I would love some input on how to make this a viable, healthy conversation. I’d love to see more blog posts about how social media has changed the landscape of mourning, emotion, loss, and pain. It’s a difficult conversation, and as long as we continue to connect through social media, it’s a necessary one.
When I set out to become a blogger, I thought my blog would be a place for pure humor, Venn diagrams, flowcharts, and pictures of my cat. Increasingly I have posted about those things that are difficult to talk about. Things that we don’t want to address. Things we like to pretend don’t exist until they happen to us. But I want to do it in ways that create discussion, not kill it. I want people to be interested, but not hurt.
So I humbly request feedback, suggestions, and criticism. I hope to constantly improve my writing, my perspective, this blog, so that it truly is a place where such conversations can happen.