After swearing not to get involved with the Robin Williams/suicide trend yesterday, I caved when I saw a Tweet that just rubbed me the wrong way. Granted, I am one person among millions, and at the end of the day, most people probably took the Tweet the way The Academy harmlessly meant it —> but I happen to be one person who had a best friend commit suicide when I was 15, three weeks after another student at my high school did, and a sister who committed suicide when I was 23. So — sending the message that suicide means freedom from tribulations just does not sit well with me.
I am prepared for some discontent with this post from you. I understand I have no clue what it’s like to actually be the person in the ‘contemplating suicide’ hot seat, and I do believe that depression is not something that someone chooses. I have no idea what it’s like to feel that much pain, and believe it’s not my job to judge the situation.
With that said, there are two things that I think need to be addressed with the provocative Genie Tweet –> When/When not to be clever on social media, and adhering to an ethical standard when reporting on suicide on social media.
Now, a NUMBER ONE rule that any social media manager should know coming out the gate is: DO NOT use tragic real-time moments to be clever –> Keep it simple, and to the point, if you respond at all. Yes, some community manager was incredibly cute and relevant in tying one of Robin Williams roles to his death, but is that what a community manager should be thinking about when someone has died? Shouldn’t the focus be more on respecting the privacy the family asked for, and sending out a simple, heartfelt message of sympathy, rather than a statement on freedom that you hope gets a lot of engagement? (Disclaimer: I am totally making an assumption here, but it’s obvious that whoever wrote the Tweet was not taking in the entire situation, and the sensitivity surrounding it.)
There seems to be some cocky belief out there that social media does not have to abide by the same societal, ethical rules traditional media adheres to. This is mostly due to the fast speed of social media, and that anyone and everyone becomes a reporter on social networks. Instead of trained journalists who had to pass numerous ethics classes in college reporting, we have amateurs telling us the news. The scariest part of this, is that the more these amateurs break ethical rules on social media, the more traditional media feels it can break those rules as well. Then, we start seeing Fox and CNN announcers reporting as if they are talking to their family about their opinions on the news. Wtf. I strongly believe this is an unstoppable epidemic, and, if anyone has any idea on how to at least slow it down, I’d be happy to listen. I believe when it gets to a point that mental health professionals have to beg the media to edit the messages they are sending out, we have a serious problem. (Case in point –>http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2014/08/12/suicide-contagion-and-social-media-the-dangers-of-sharing-genie-youre-free/ )
On a personal note, it was horrific reliving my sister and friend’s own suicides yesterday as I was on social media. I’m a social media strategist, so I obviously could not avoid social networks. I got a pit in my stomach every time a new article appeared on my newsfeed, taking a stand on suicide when it’s not even written by someone who’s ever been touched by it, and is not a mental health professional. The errors and stupidity in reporting was astounding.
Lessons here –> Take responsibility of your own social networks and reporting (if you’re a blogger/journalist), and make sure you are ETHICALLY reporting facts. Also, leave the clever Tweets for clever moments. Read the situation, your audience and the environment before you enter it with a message that could be taken a wrong a thousand different ways. At the end of the day, you are responsible for the messages you are sending out there, and you better make sure they are ones that are saving people.
– Marji J. Sherman
Thank you Marji.
Hi Marji. I am sorry to hear that this message made bad memories come back to you. It was indeed hard not the get involved in the amount of messages about the actor’s suicide. I typically keep my mouth shut (i.e. my fingers away from my keyboard) if religious or political subjects are coming up. This is not the place for it. Period.
On Robin William’s death however, I feel that a lot of people have similar experience with friends and family members they lost by suicide, just like you. And they as well felt that everything is revitalised.
And I agree with you that such events are hardly a subject to become clever on and go big in (social) media. I am not sure about my last phrase but I still write it: The phrase “Genie, you’re free” could as well be understood as a well-meant farewell since suicide is still seen stigmatised. But Twitter is simply the wrong place for it.
The Junior Flack
I totally agree with you. The media has romanticized suicide in this case