How Should We Respond to Tragedy Using Social Media?

By Mike Kilcoyne Dark.

Nobody I knew was running in the Boston Marathon at the time that the bombs went off. I had no emotional investment in that race, and no ties to Boston.

But I still felt dark. Like I was harboring an awful secret.

And I was pissed off. Not because I was mad at anyone in particular, but because I was angry that it had happened. That’s horrible. I can’t watch this. I went for a run instead. 

I had heard about it at around 4 p.m., and not from Twitter, or from a friend. I was on the phone with a client, talking about something that didn’t seem to matter much at the time:

“Did you hear?”

“No, what?”

“About the bombs, in Boston.”

What?”

Bombs? Guns, sure – they’ve become a tragic symbol of escalating gun violence in the U.S. – but bombs, really?

We all react differently to tragedy.

When I had heard about the Newtown tragedy, I was stuffed in a tight room with several others in the middle of Jerusalem.

First, I got sick. How many? Jesus. 

And then I started to point fingers. What about the parents? What about the police? And what about the ****ing NRA?

But then I turned to social media, and didn’t know what to say. How do you respond to a tragedy of that scale – to the loss and devastation, and to the families torn apart by disaster?

Send out a tweet. Say, 'I'm sorry'?

And the truth is, rarely is there a canned, one-size-fits-all response.

Which means that it’s real. It’s authentic, and that it varies – from confusion, to skepticism, to misinformation and even anger.

And the question remains, how should we respond to tragedy through social media?

When I heard about the Boston Marathon bombing, I wasn't really sure how to react.

'My heart goes out to those in Boston'? That felt stiff. Contrived, even. Everyone had already said that.

A quote? Someone had already found a better one.

Instead, I simply retweeted contact information for people in Boston to contact their loved ones. A total cop-out.

Therein lies my point: we spend so much time meticulously crafting an idea of who we want to be on social media -- brands and people alike -- that it becomes easy for us to forget how to react to the things that are truly unsettling. Being vulnerable through social media feels foreign and unnerving.

But if the tragic events that occurred in Boston taught me anything, it's that that vulnerability hasn't been entirely lost in our digitally-infused generation -- if anything, we've become more aware of the importance of social media in connecting to one another. In caring for one another in times of need.

So how should we react? By helping -- through connectionsthrough hospitality, and even, in this great example from Patton Oswalt, kind words.

Because even though the tragic events that occurred in Boston unearthed some painful memories and created new scars, it also showed just how courageous and generous people can be.