A Sad, Strange Twitter Story

There is a sad story that has been unfolding in Twitter streams over the past few days and now (unfortunately as I predicted) national media are covering it. Shellie Ross, who tweets as @Military_Mom, lost her two-year-old son earlier this week when he drowned in the pool at their home. She tweeted asking for prayers for him prior to his death, then several hours later tweeted pictures of him in honor of his memory. Her friends in the Twitter community rallied to support her and encouraged others to contribute their support as well.

Another woman, tweeting @MadisonMcGraw, saw those tweets and cautioned followers to verify the story before contributing any money and even checked with media to see if the story was real. Then she looked at Ross’s Military_Mom Twitter stream and questioned whether or not the child might not have died if his mother had not been tweeting so much throughout the day. Friends and supporters of Military_Mom defended her and accused McGraw of cyberbullying and some even said she should be beaten up. Military_Mom responded to @MadisonMcGraw calling her a “bitch.” Others jumped in on both sides and there were some rather heated exchanges. One woman on Twitter who had questioned Military_Mom later apologized. Ross responded with some things I don’t care to repeat here. That woman took down her Twitter page altogether.

Madison McGraw stepped up her accusations against Ross on her blog. At some point Ross deleted some of the tweets she made just before her son’s drowning, and the one she made asking for prayers for him. She also took down pictures she had posted on Twitter. ABC is now covering the story. Dan Harris tweeted that he was assigned to cover the story for World News tonight. McGraw responded pointing him to timing of Ross’ tweets. Ross responded to Harris tweeting, “warning, be very careful what you say about me my family and my child.” She then responded again to critics calling them some pretty nasty names. In her most recent post she says she is “done” and that her critics don’t deserve another moment of her attention. I hope that is the case.

The story is horrible in every way, but it is also hard not to follow it once you start. I don’t even like to imagine how I would respond to the death of a child. I cannot imagine anything being more painful or devastating. It is really disturbing seeing all the emotions being played out in public between people who don’t even know each other on Twitter, but I keep reading them anyway. I don’t know what the motivations of those criticizing Ross are. Some may be concerned over how the child died and want to warn others about the dangers of getting too immersed online. Others may have gotten caught up in the story as a morbid form of curiosity. As for the reaction of Ross, maybe lashing out at critical strangers provides some form of distraction or a release of the incredible anger that must be involved with such grieving. That is a question for people who know about psychology and I am not one of those people.

There are many questions people who blog and tweet might want to consider, though. When you post very personal, private matters on a public Twitter feed do they cease to be private? It seems to me they are then in the public domain, whether that was the intention or not. What is proper behavior of strangers commenting on someone else’s tweets? What is cyber bullying? What kind of legal implications might there be from making things public that become the subject of an investigation? Is deleting tweets attempting to destroy evidence? On a broader level, what is social media doing to our society? Why do some people find it necessary to share every single detail of their lives?

This has made me consider all the information I share through blogging and social media. I write about politics and have received plenty of nasty comments over the past five years, but most of them have been about my political views rather than my personal actions (although a few have crossed that line). John Hawkins makes some really good points and reminds us that our Twitter and Facebook friends are different than our “real” friends. I have real life friends that I also connect with through Twitter, and I have some “friends” and “followers” I have never met. When updating status reports and tweeting it would do us all good to be reminded of that.

Update: I noticed that Ross’ tweets are now protected so the links above to them will no longer work unless you were already following her, and many of the tweets have now been deleted anyway.

Update II: More at HuffPo.

Cara Ellison made me realize that I did not mention anywhere in my blog post that I did say a prayer for the Ross family when I read about the death of their son. Sadly the Twitter aspect of the story is overshadowing all else and is what makes it so interesting to those of us who follow social media. I followed the story for a couple of days on Twitter before writing about it because it really bothered me that the death of a child was involved. But when the story became a subject of the national media, and since it does raise so many questions about blogging and social media, I decided to comment. Maybe I shouldn’t have. I don’t know. I am still trying to figure out what I think about it all.

Update III: Wise words I need to tape to my computer screen, from TGWShark in the comments section: “All I can counsel is, in tweeting and responding, use wisdom. Unlike
tweets, prayer leaves no written record and never hurts.”

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