I don’t check my personal e-mail or news websites while I’m at work all day. But the first thing I did when I got home Friday evening was log into Facebook, and that’s where I first heard the news of the devastating Newton, CT school shooting. For many people, Facebook, formerly a place to check out classmates and post photos from parties, has become a multipurpose communication device to share the good, the bad and the ugly. And sometimes it gets really ugly.
Facebook makes us feel bad
Plenty of studies have shown that Facebook makes us feel bad about ourselves by making other peoples’ lives look better than they really are. But, as people become more comfortable sharing bad news through social media, Facebook can also become a downer as all of our friends’ and acquaintances’ less-than-happy moments are updated minute-by-minute through status posts.
Even worse than genuinely bad news are the whiny, complaining statuses that people post about various life frustrations, such as job woes, roommate conflicts and the ever-present “FML” status for things that, when looked at in perspective, aren’t actually that bad. This constant influx of negativity can put a damper on your own life, and make you more sensitive to conflict and stressful situations.
Younger people tend to spill the beans on Facebook
Being a twenty-something these days basically means broadcasting your entire life on Facebook. My older relatives don’t post nearly as often as my cousins and friends do, and their posts tend to be related to current events or activities they enjoy participating in, rather than personal situations. It’s even possible to see a difference in Facebook usage when there is a relatively small age gap. When my grandpa died two years ago, I didn’t post anything about it on Facebook because I felt that it was too personal. My cousin, who is four years younger than me, wrote a status about him. Which one of us did the right thing? It’s hard to say.
The worst case scenario is that someone shares bad news on Facebook before other key friends or family members are notified. For example, a few weeks ago, one of my friends posted that her dog had died. Her brother was away at school and no one had thought to contact him before the post went up, so he found out about the death of a beloved pet on the internet. Making sure that everyone who is closely involved with a situation is updated before any sharing is done over social media is clearly key.
Is it the best way to share?
This New York Times article suggests that posting bad news, such as a death in the family or impending divorce, may actually be a better way to spread the word, as it allows the receiver of the news to absorb it on his or her own terms and eliminates emotional phone calls or in-person conversations. But some believe that using less personal methods of sharing upsetting news may distance people from their emotions and prevent them from grieving properly.
In some situations, nothing beats the speed and ease of social media. Hurricane Sandy was a great example of this, as people across the eastern seaboard updated Facebook to let friends and family members across the country know that they were okay. As for sharing more personal losses, the jury is still out on whether Facebook is the way to go.
What do you think?
Have you ever shared bad news on Facebook or other social media? Would you recommend it as a good way to get the word out while minimizing emotional encounters? Share your stories in the comments below.