When Social Media Makes Me Anti-Social – A Lesson for Communicators

I have abstained from social media since the horrific details of the Sandy Hook tragedy unfolded Dec. 14. There are many others whom I wish had followed my self-imposed moratorium.

After initial sympathies were posted, tweeted and expressed by the world, social media comments shifted to casting blame, concocting theories, propagating agendas or utter ignorance. In the wake of such shocking news, I could tolerate little else.

As a communications professional, I feel I bear a greater responsibility with the words I choose to share and the timing of my words. Yet I understand that others have every right to post what I have every right not to post.

In the few quick peeks I chose to steal, the Facebook comments and Twitter feed I read did not disappoint, or rather did. They affirmed my abstinence.

Are personal expressions about gun control, homeschooling, bad parenting, mental illness, broken marriages and religion helpful? Do our personal convictions contribute to the greater good in the minutes, hours and immediate days following a tragedy?

I think not. And certainly not from those of us in the business of communicating.

ESPN immediately called for its employees to adhere to a 24-hour ban on tweeting about sports. News organizations required their staffs to refrain from personal opinions over social media regarding the tragedy. Saturday Night Live on Dec. 15 opened with a children’s choir singing Silent Night – the first time since Sept. 11, 2001, that SNL aired a special opening. 

As communicators, we should ask ourselves:

●Who do I represent?

●What is my professional brand, my personal brand?

●Who’s my audience, my followers?

●Why do people listen to what I have to say?

●What do they expect to hear?

In answering these questions, we can learn what we should and should not communicate. For me, I’ve chosen to be offline. I’d rather be missing from the landscape than a part of the insensitive mass.  

On Friday afternoon, Dec. 14, I watched my daughter compete in her first-ever high school sporting event, a match I thought might be canceled under the circumstances but wasn’t. I watched her win. I shared it with no one.

Normally, I would have uploaded pictures and video to my social media accounts. Not on that day or the days since. To celebrate my daughter’s accomplishment when 20 sets of parents are mourning the grave loss of their children and their unfulfilled accomplishments seemed inappropriate at best and unconscionable at worst.

My approach may not be adopted by others. I’m not saying it should. But I am suggesting we need to consider an approach.

I will lift my ban. Soon. Probably now.

Will anyone have noticed my social media absence? Likely not.

But I know. That’s what has felt right for me. And that’s how I’ve chosen to express my sympathies and respect.

Nicole van Esselstyn, like millions others, has found great meaning, comfort and hope in hearing the life stories of the victims, the families, the heroes and the first responders of the Sandy Hook tragedy. Those are the words she is choosing to listen to and share.