Counter-WesleyingSpeak: There Are Larger Issues Than Facebook

This post is in response to Tragedy and Facebook Statuses, a recent “WesleyingSpeak” by tuna.

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My mother texted me Friday morning with news of the Sandy Hook shooting. At first I was just kind of numb. I combed through all my usual news sources, hoping to find more information. At this point, only the shooter had been confirmed dead. I went to lunch and continued to study for my film final.

However, about an hour before I took the test, “confirmed” reports started emerging: Around 26-28 people were murdered, most of them children, all of them shot down by a single, initially misidentified man. Again, I was overtaken by numbness. I tried to put the tragedy out of my head as I worked through my final, and afterwards I just sort of collapsed in my room. My mom called to tell me she loved me, and I watched Obama’s speech. I cried.

I thought about all of those kids who wouldn’t go home that day. I tried to think about what I was doing at that age. Little six-year-old me would’ve been swinging in the backyard, watching Scooby-Doo, and begging her mom to read me just one more picture book. I couldn’t help but think about the lives of these children, past, present, and future.

And then I wrote a Facebook status:

What I find most heartbreaking is that tonight, 20 young children will not go home and watch their favorite cartoons. 20 individuals will not have their parents read them bedtime stories. 20 small souls will not open presents on Christmas Day or Hanukkah.

We live in an awful, cruel world. But we live in a world we can change. All of us. So let’s change it.

To me at least, Facebook is a very personal thing. I don’t post 87,000 different statuses every day, and I posted that status about Newtown because I care. I wanted to show visible support for something that affected me as a human being. Facebook’s status text box asks the question, “What’s on your mind?” What was on my mind the minute I posted that status was the shooting and the tragedy of it all. Would people have been upset with me for not posting a status about the shooting? I highly doubt it.

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Facebook statuses teach me to never forget. When each new status about the Sandy Hook shooting showed up on my newsfeed, I would turn to the news again and think more about the shooting. I would reflect. I found myself feeling more thankful and grateful for the people around me.

In addition, the Wesleyan community had several vigils on Friday evening in memory of those killed in the shooting. Are their prayers invalid because no Newtown resident was there to hear them? Is the grief of people who attended those vigils greater than those who did not attend? It’s a slippery slope to compare grief between people and how different individuals mourn. 

Personally, I found tuna’s post inappropriate in terms of the time in which it was published. I would’ve appreciated it more had he posted it at a later time. My father has given me lots of talks and has sent me loads of articles about how Facebook is changing our society and how it’s creating all these weird behavioral shifts. I’m used to hearing about “Facebook culture.” But the last thing I wanted on the day of a national tragedy, a human tragedy, was a scolding.

Yes, tuna made a point (and reiterated it in the comments section) that his article was meant to be more of a thought-provoking piece and not a slap on the wrist for those who wrote messages on Facebook. But I still found the latter to be the case. There are far larger issues involved in this shooting than who posted a Facebook status on the Internet and whether or not they actually know someone personally affected by the tragedy. 

For example, I come from a different part of the country (the South) where parents take their kids “huntin'” by the time they’re five or six and where it’s considered a life milestone , like getting married or having children, when a kid makes his or her first kill in the woods. I was extremely disturbed when a former classmate of mine wrote, “This whole Connecticut shooting makes me want to buy another gun” as his Facebook status because wait, isn’t the issue that there are too many guns out there already? It’s easy to forget that there are people in this country who think there should be more guns and not fewer guns. Some citizens think we should be arming elementary school students with loaded weapons to protect them instead of taking away guns from the people doing the shooting in the first place.

Within the issue of gun ownership comes an infinite number of pressing questions. Why are disturbed people able to by guns? Why is it so easy to own a weapon? How do we pass this legislation? How do we keep this momentum going?

This brings me to my final point. There is an online petition on the White House’s website calling for the government to have more conversations about gun ownership. It already has over 20,000 signatures and is growing by the hour. How did “Adam S.,” the creator of the petition, let people know that such a petition existed and that they should sign it? Did he go around door-to-door collecting electronic signatures? Did he send out mass mailings across the nation within minutes of the tragedy?

I’m guessing he posted a link to it as his Facebook status.

13 thoughts on “Counter-WesleyingSpeak: There Are Larger Issues Than Facebook

  1. Student '12, still on campus.

    I’ll make two simple points:

    1. I was hurt by Adam’s article because I felt like it represented a very callous and quick-to-criticize way of thinking. Just because we think critically in class (and do a heck of a job at it) does not mean that we should be criticizing every situation…especially sensitive ones. Have we become so proud of our analytical skills that we must advertise them, even when it comes off more as shock value than beneficial prescription? Must we sacrifice offending people in order to prove to ourselves that we can dissect social phenomena–that our critical response is legitimate?

    2. I agree with hermes in many ways. It was too quick to post a criticism of this tragedy. Some people below may be asking why I think this. As someone who has family in Newtown, posting a status on Facebook was one of several ways of showing support for them (I also sent texts and emails, but no calls, if that offends you). I’m guessing that any random person, even Adam–if we were friends on Facebook–wouldn’t be likely to know that I have family who is deeply affected. I don’t have it mentioned anywhere–should I have posted that? Would that give my status a “genuine” purpose? Maybe even then, would it still make my status appear like I am trying to find a place in the tragedy? Further, after talking with my aforementioned family members, I learned that they really do appreciate the condolences, even the ones posted on Facebook. Maybe we should consider that this helps them not to feel forgotten in their pain, and that people really do support them.

    That is all.

  2. hate to do this but still

    Firstly, yes, this was a terrible tragedy. I find it comforting that many found it in their conscience to offer condolences. But what of other children who died, are dying, right now, around the world? In Pakistan, in Gaza, in Myanmar. What of them and their futures?

    Why do we not, everyday, express our sympathy for them and their families? Is it because they *don’t* have backyards or Scooby Doo or Christmas or Hanukkah presents? That their childhood isn’t relatable enough for us living in American suburbia that their suffering is (more easily) dismissed? That because they’re so foreign and afar, we can’t project our sentimentality onto their lost lives and pasts and futures? These are human tragedies too, why don’t they warrant a facebook status?

    I’m not saying the two are mutually exclusive or that one is more important than the other. Only asking for people to consider why empathy is reserved only for calamities on our own turf.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/17/us-killings-tragedies-pakistan-bug-splats

    1. Bow Wow

      I completely agree–a lot of my disquietude regarding how some people are responding to this tragedy is that it reveals how contingent our empathy is on geographic proximity and cultural familiarity. (Of course it’s a different story for those who actually know Newtown residents, but for the vast majority of people who have heard about this tragedy and are thinking about it, that isn’t the case.) Not that people should be faulted or blamed for that–a tragedy like this is going to make each person respond and feel differently, and choosing any one way as being the “correct” way to feel for me seems like a colossal error in judgment. Which issues are and are not important to discuss is something that each individual will decide for hirself.

      But still, personally, I don’t think there’s anything beneficial about a refusal to think critically (in Wesleyan fashion, if you will) about how we, collectively and individually, are responding to this tragedy. Take the post I’m responding to, for instance: one could certainly try to argue that there’s a qualitative difference between a single individual deliberately shooting 26 teachers and students in a school at close range and a drone operated from afar that kills students inadvertently, but for me the ground for substantive differentiation is shaky at best. Either way, lives have just been destroyed, and families have been altered forever. Just because one impacts us viscerally in a way the other doesn’t (we have a flood of pictures, information, and intimate details for newtown instead of a few numbers in a brief AP report), does that mean it merits a higher spot on the tragedy hierarchy each of us has inevitably constructed in our minds? I’d say no, but, more importantly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking these kinds of questions.

      Grief is not something that should be questioned, second-guessed, or written-off, but, like any emotion, it’s not something that should be taken at face value. I obviously can’t speak for anyone besides myself, and maybe this is simply an indication of my own superficiality, but I can never really mentally separate my own emotional response to a tragedy from my desire to validate my own “humanness” and “capacity to feel” by having a response to a tragedy that accords with what I’ve determined (thanks to my life experience up to this point) a human being should feel. And because I can never know how a human being besides myself functions internally, I can’t help but conjecture that their responses are analogous to my own, that the expression of grief of one of tuna’s facebook friends is nothing but an unconscious or semi-conscious attempt to perform the emotional response that has collectively been deemed appropriate; and “in reality” (not trying to imply that my sort of dickish perspective is any more objectively valid than anyone else’s, but simply illustrate my thought process) participating in such a collective response is simply a way to bracket the simmering questions and uncertainties one has that can’t really be put into words, because that would mean that feelings are always things that can be isolated, communicated, made intelligible to others via language, which I have found to be patently false.

      I guess my point–if I have one, which I highly doubt–is that I see a lot of attempts to fit this shooting into a narrative that makes sense–the “national tragedy,” the “perils of rampant gun ownership,” the “superficially perfect family with a troubled, mentally-ill child.” It’s a fruitless enterprise, because ultimately we can never understand why Adam Lanza went into a school and killed over two dozen human beings. I’m sure he didn’t really know at the time either. Which for me means that there’s no way to determine what we objectively “should” be discussing, as if this whole thing has seriously broached any other issue besides reaffirming that truly understanding the feelings and actions of another human being, or even yourself, is fucking impossible.

  3. --

    agree. Just after 20 children and 6 teachers are shot to hell, is Facebook soul-searching really the discussion we shd be having?

  4. gues

    this post aside, which i don’t particularly care for but whatever, kinda fucked that it took about a day to get the secession petitions over 25,000 but this one not yet even. i assumed its sort of direct response to the right wing media narrative would get alot of blog play and people would be all over that right quick.

  5. '13

    Sounds like you took Adam’s post personally. Strange that you then decided to write a personal attack against his post (which he signed with his real name) and not give your own name. Seems cowardly to me.
    Also, sorry, but I agree with Adam. Putting a status on Facebook doesn’t change anything. We should be discussing the bigger issues, but people think “voicing their support” for something on Facebook somehow means that they’re taking action. That’s worth discussing too. The argument that you can’t talk about anything so close to a tragedy doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t think Adam was arguing that Facebook was the biggest issue raised by Newtown. It was just something he noticed and something I haven’t seen anyone else write about.
    Jesse Brent

    1. Zach

      Like most Wesleying bloggers, hermes is not actually anonymous—clicking her display name will quickly reveal her Wesleyan email. Nor is it common practice to sign a Wesleying post with your real name (though I don’t fault Adam for doing so).

      It’s pretty clear that this post is more of a thoughtful response to Adam’s piece than an attack. I don’t quite see what’s cowardly about hermes posting a personal essay on the subject and opening herself up to public criticism like yours.

    1. Eh?

      This comment is the most self-indulgent thing I have ever read. Okay, not really, but it seems to touch upon an important point this debate, however inadvertent. The grieving process itself can be self-indulgent. Get over it. Whether we go on Facebook, attend a vigil, or do nothing at all, we’d appreciate not having the way we express our grief (here Facebook) critiqued while we’re still in shock and pain, thank you very much. Save it for a later day (much), as hermes suggests, or for your next paper. And if this is the most self-indulgent thing you’ve ever read, then read more. I suggest you start with Going Rogue by Sarah Palin.

  6. xxx

    I think you are contradicting yourself. You claim that by posting a Facebook status, you were just sharing “what’s on your mind.” How is that any different from tuna doing the same in their post? Were they not also sharing their thoughts?

    In addition, you are creating a false dichotomy. Simply because a person chooses to write publicly about an observation that they made, does not mean it’s taking away significance or time from other broader issues resulting from this tragedy. Obviously, discussing Facebook within the context of this tragedy is perhaps of least importance, in face of gun control or mental health policies in this nation. But that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it, or that someone can’t choose to write about it. What if that’s part of that individual’s own grieving process?

    In any case, I took tuna’s post as commenting on the complexities of human behavior in face of having online presences when national tragedies take place. It is something that crossed my mind as well. I thought it was indeed strange/interesting that so many people on my news feed were all producing similar comments, along the lines of “offering condolences.” Your specific Facebook status does nothing of the sort that tuna was discussing. I think what tuna wanted to raise was that traditionally, one “offers condolences” directly to those affected by some event. It just seems strange to use that language specifically, on a Facebook post, when it’s not being used in the true sense of the phrase. I just think it’s an interesting comment on the current nature of how we express grief, and it doesn’t invalidate any of these individuals’ pain, and it doesn’t take away anything from the broader issues at hand.

    Obviously, everyone grieves differently, and if part of that is making a Facebook post that is “offering condolences”, or broadcasting prayers, then that’s totally okay. But on some level, people might be making these status updates because it makes them feel like they’re doing something. If that is the case, then it is worth exploring ways to harness that need to “do something” and divert it into something much more productive than a status update. Like you said, we live in a world we can change, so let’s all do something about it.

    Bottom line is, it doesn’t mean people like tuna can’t talk about it or bring it up as a lens on human suffering.

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