How Not To React To A Tragedy On Social Media

24 May 2017, 14:06 | Updated: 17 October 2017, 09:47

social media

By Benedict Townsend

When something terrible happens, we will often rush to social media to react. However choosing the appropriate way to react can sometimes be difficult...

The recent terrorist attack in Manchester was a chance to reflect on many things, few of them good. One thing we can ponder is the way in which we react to terrible events in the age of the internet. In our society, an inevitable part of an all-encompassing news event is reaction on various forms of media. In times of crisis, countless people react; but the question of what, exactly, is the most appropriate way to react, is a matter of debate.



You don't have to make it about you.

Human beings are empathetic creatures (by and large). We understand the feelings of others because we are able to mentally place ourselves into their shoes and enter their frame of mind. It is not a bad thing, then, that people will naturally try to comprehend a tragedy, particularly an utterly senseless tragedy, by inserting themselves into the situation. That being said - although it is not (usually) done for malicious reasons, the instinct to insert yourself into a story and in some way make it about you can often backfire horribly.



You may be trying to empathise, but taking an event that has no immediate bearing on you and reframing it around yourself can come across as incredibly selfish; and at worst, it can give the impression that you're trying to capitalise on an atrocity to gain some free attention. This is especially compounded if you're a public figure or have a large following on social media.

On the night of the Manchester Attacks, YouTuber Gabriella Lindley, in a stunning display of tone-deafness, decided to immediately react to the unfolding news with a series of tweets about how she "had had a dream about a terrorist attack" and how this must be proof that she's "psychic". Gabby is, of course, allowed express herself as she wants; but the tweets displayed a distinct lack of understanding of the situation. People had died. Children had only just died. That was not the moment to start telling your thousands of followers about how the news was actually sort of about you, and your magical terrorist attack prediction powers.




To be clear, Gabby will not have sent these tweets out with malicious intent. She wouldn't have been trying to upset people; but she did upset people - and she soon deleted the tweets as result. The reason why this happened was because she made a mistake that we are all capable of making, especially on social media - she didn't think.

When something happens, it is a primal instinct within us to ask, first and foremost, does this affect me? Whether it be our own safety, or the safety of people, animals, places etc that we love, we always put ourselves first. When you combine this instinct with internet services that allow you to project your thoughts to thousands upon thousands of people in a matter of seconds, you can easily run into trouble. We saw this already this year when YouTuber Jack Jones decided to accompany a tweet about the Westminster Attack, with a pouting picture of himself.




The solution is simple: Stop yourself for a moment. Step back and look at the big picture. If your take on the situation could be perceived as self-serving, it's probably because it kind of is - and the people who will push back against you are not being 'haters', but are actually reacting pretty reasonably.

Be wary of unconfirmed news.

In the immediate aftermath of a tragic event (or even as it is unfolding), there will be a flurry of information swimming around social media; much of it unconfirmed. Time and time again, people share pictures 'from the scene'; which are actually from events that occurred in an entirely different time and place. There were a good few people sharing images from a previous police training exercise, believing they were images from the Manchester attack.



If information is not coming from a well-known news source, be wary of it. Many lesser known news sources brag about being 'faster' than traditional sources like the BBC, but the reason why those bigger sources tend to be 'slower' is because they take the time to verify information before they report it. There's no point being fast if you're wrong. Misinformation can also confuse rescue efforts and cause people unnecessary worry or stress.


Save your hot take, at least for a day.

This latest tragedy might well align with some political theory you have. You might be very excited to let everyone know just how spicy your take on the event is. But as a top tip: if the names of the deceased have not even been confirmed yet, maybe hold off your #contro theory. There will be endless days ahead for you to espouse your view on why things happened the way they did. But in the early stages, when nothing is even confirmed yet, maybe hold off - at least out of respect for those affected.



Sometimes silence is golden.

In the hubbub of social media, people can often forget that there is always an alternate choice to every online action - do nothing. You don't  have to tweet. You don't have  to deliver a view. Sometimes there is nothing you need to say, and no one needs you to say anything. In a world of increased interactivity and connectivity, we can sometimes forget that sometimes, you don't need to weigh in.

This is doubly true for jokes.




There's a theory that comedy = tragedy + time. If you're not going to at least factor in the 'time' element, then you're going to be (correctly) derided for being an unsympathetic arsehole. Many would argue that there is never really a good time to start cracking jokes about a terror attack that killed multiple people. But if you simply must, then at least wait until time has passed since the event, so the family and friends of the deceased don't have to witness your bullshit while they search for information on the missing.

Those are my views on the issue, but what do you think? Let us know in the comment section below, or on our Facebook page - and have a nice day.