My family has suffered an incomprehensible loss this week, and if you are a regular reader, I do want to reassure you that I, my husband, and my son are fine in the physical sense. Emotionally, we are fragile. While I cannot share the details of what has happened, I could not let this opportunity pass by to share something I think really needs to be said about social networking and some basic etiquette when someone loses a loved one. Personally, some of the things I’ve seen on Facebook this week about what took place angered me, but as a blogger, I feel that sharing my experiences about it will be a small step in the healing process for myself, and I can only hope someone will take what I have to say to heart.
I live in a small town where so many lives are intertwined. It’s one of the best things about living in a small town. It is also a wonderful feeling to know that you can call on your friends to stand with you in prayer, to pass along information when you just aren’t emotionally able to, and to just be there to be an encouragement. Social networking is also great for our little place on the map, because when information needs to be passed along quickly, it gets the job done. Facebook played a very large part in what my family experienced this week. For the very most part, it was extremely helpful. However, there were a couple of times where it personally angered me because, finally in my 37 years of life, I was seeing tragedy so up close and personal and I could see how careless people can be with their choice of words while using a social network outlet.
While information was flying fast about what took place, the thing that hurt my heart the very most was that some of our family found out about what happened through complete strangers on Facebook. Instead of being told in person by a caring loved one, some had to find out with just a few clicks of the keyboard. While bad news is never welcomed, to have it reduced so bluntly (and in some cases, with an absolute lack of class..and yes, I AM calling out some of the news outlets here who picked up this story and ran with it and neglected to monitor comments left by the general public afterwards) to a couple of sentences was almost too much for some. Along with this, others came out of the woodwork to offer their armchair detective/psychologist commentary about the matter, with little regard to who might be reading. While what took place was tragic and unexplainable, it wasn’t for others to dissect and offer possible explanations. As a blogger who is familiar with seeing stories get “scooped” online, I can understand how being the first to be “in the know” often might bring a feeling of rush and excitement. However, with delicate matters when we are so far removed from someone’s personal pain, I think it’s just irresponsible to offer up anything more than a prayer or a well wish for those who are hurting when the pain is still so fresh.
With this in mind, I’d like to offer up three suggestions for using Facebook responsibly in times of tragedy:
1. WAIT. If you hear something, just wait until you say anything at all. If you must ask someone to confirm anything, do it by private message. If that someone you must ask is an immediate family member, wait again. While YOU may have heard the truth, they may not have been informed yet.
2. Take your cues from the immediate family. Until THEY speak on their wall of what has happened, proceed cautiously with saying anything to them about it until then. When you do respond, don’t press them for details they may not be comfortable sharing. Chances are, if what happened was totally unexpected, they aren’t ready to talk yet because they are still trying to wrap their own minds around what has happened.
3. When you have done the first two things, just offer your support, thoughts, or prayers. If you must ask more, again, take it to a private conversation and use sensitivity. It’s just rude to ask for personal details on someone’s status or wall for all to see, no matter how truly concerned you are.
Those who matter the most to me, who KNOW me and love me, who are truly my closest friends did all of the above, and looking back now it makes my heart smile to know that I am SO blessed to have these people in my life. They’ve been there for me, literally being a support when I needed it the most.
I have also seen the kindness of complete strangers who offered their thoughts and prayers. I wish I could give them all a big hug and thank them, because words that speak love are a healing balm we all need right now. Our family has truly felt those prayers working, and it’s so amazing to see others stand with you even when they don’t know you personally. That is perhaps the brightest spot of Facebook I saw this past week.
I didn’t write this out to make myself sound like I know the perfect way to proceed online when a tragedy happens. I just saw what was helpful and what wasn’t. I saw the power of choosing words and refusing to gossip or speak publicly of things that I know nothing of. Choosing and refusing. For me, it was a huge eye opener, and I sincerely pray that nobody reading this ever needs to use this advice.