Tragedy and Social Media

newtown ribbon

Many of you don’t know me personally, but I was actually raised in Newtown, Connecticut. It’s an amazing little town that has grown dramatically but not changed very much since I lived there. When I was young, we used to have to see the movies at City Hall, visit the Blue Colony Diner for ice cream, and go to St. Rose of Lima Church on Sundays. The community was self-reliant… my Dad was even on the volunteer fire department when we lived there. Great people, incredible community.

One of our family friends has a son whose life was spared in this tragedy – we’re all praying for them and the families that lost so much in this horrifying event.

When something like this happens and includes a controversial and political issue like guns, there’s a real risk involved in discussing or adding your opinion online. Arguments can quickly erupt to anger and even hate when someone reveals their political viewpoints as the victims of this still haven’t been put to rest.

I wanted to throw out some tips that I think are important to both companies and individuals:

  • Silence can be an appropriate response. Good friend Chuck Gose pointed out that the NRA shut down their Facebook page and stopped updating their Twitter account. I don’t believe there’s a better response than that given the situation. Too many companies think it’s the job of PR to put out a statement. I disagree. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to be quiet.
  • Sharing your opinion will open you to attack. Plain and simple, putting yourself on one side of an argument or another will spark a response. If you have a strong opinion one way or another and you declare it – don’t be surprised to get openly attacked, ridiculed, trolled or have alternative passionate opinions thrown back. Sharing your opinion requires maturity. If you’re not mature enough to handle the response, don’t open yourself up to the attack.
  • Discussion can be productive. Social media does provide a means to disagree with people while still both caring about the end result. I’ve seen incredible discussions on the 2nd amendment, mental illness, stories of heroism, and messages of love and support the last few days.
  • Waiting is another tactic. While social responses are typically best when there’s an immediate response, politically charged events like this may call for a different strategy. I stopped Tweeting and limited my Facebook engagement. I also waited to post this for a couple of days so that I had something constructive to say rather than just add to the explosion of opinions, arguments and debates out there. If you can wait until people cool off a bit, the conversation may be more constructive.

Social media is a medium. You’re not just speaking directly to the other person. It’s a communication method where your message is put into the public for scrutiny, regardless of where you post it. The medium provides a safety net for those who wish to do good, and a shield to hide behind for those who wish to do evil.

When the home explosion happened here in Indianapolis, we saw all the good that social media could evoke. It provided a medium of support, news, faith, messages of hope and resulted in real help to those involved.

I’m optimistic, despite the political debate, that social media will ultimately be a force for good in healing this community. I’ve watched already as my friends in Newtown have used Facebook to share their feelings, despair, hope and happiness that their son was alive. While we can’t rid ourselves of the crazies, hopefully we can learn how to use the medium for good. Or learn when not use it at all.


  1. 1

    Great comments Doug! I remember knowing that you grew up in Connecticut but totally didn’t realize it was Newtown. Thanks for sharing these insights with your readers and the communities at large.

    • 2

      Thanks @bnpositive:disqus . I never thought that anyone would ever hear about Newtown, CT. It’s bizarre watching it unfold on the news and seeing my family’s friends speak about it as it’s unfolding.

  2. 3

    Another risk of diving into Social Media discussion of tragic news stories is that it comes across as exploitation — like when reporters shove a microphone at the face of someone who just lost a loved one. Silence is usually more appropriate.

  3. 4

    We can be so mob-based with social media. For a few hours that day we thought it was the brother. Imagine if riders on the bus he frantically tweeting from would have read the tweets – and if the shooter was still alive. Could have been so much worse.

    And Richard Engel. I can see why NBC put a media blackout on him until he was released. If it got leaked any sooner who knows what could have happened to him.
    Social Media folks start shooting out anything bit of a story they hear and news agencies start skipping steps to keep up and to maintain their speed, switching to forgiveness-based media as if they were a guerrilla marketing agency just to keep relevant to their sponsors. Quite a slippery slope.

    More important – glad your friends and family survived the Russian roulette wheel of #Newtown on Friday. It doesn’t make the situation more tragic and it ain’t much a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine to go down but at least y’all can tell their story and honor those 27 (assuming 28 total dead – 1 whose name will never be spoken again).

    And knowing you, bromance, you’ll honor them in style.

    Let me know what I can do to help, especially if it can be more than with Twitter & Facebook!

    – your mentee


  4. 5


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