This weekend a man killed himself. He is a man that you most likely have never heard of and never would have heard of until today.
I’m not going to mention his name or link to the posts about him because doing those things is part of the problem. Let me explain:
A very large website that gets a lot of traffic “reported” on this man’s death, except their manner of reporting was lazy and weak, and neglected some important details, such as the fact that the death was an apparent suicide (they later updated their post to reflect this rather important bit of information). The reason this was news at all? This man was a “social media celebrity”. Yes, there are such things.
Social media celebrities are people who have reach a critical mass of Twitter followers (usually around the 100,000 mark) after which large groups of other people (Usually social media wannabes and others who fancy themselves future social media rock stars) hang on their every word and rabidly click the RT button and link to every blog post they write.
This site knew that this man was a social media celebrity and threw up a keyword-rich blog post as quickly as possible (which, again, they later had to fix—not that it mattered; they were there first). Since all the social media sycophants follow this site very closely, the news got tweeted and linked and retweeted, ad infinitum, into the Great Social Media Echo Chamber. They all talked about how sad, how tragic, and wrote blog posts and comments and tweets about how this made them think and how it inspired them to get to know one another better.
Each of those people, of course, got the Retweets and blog comments that they so crave, thus furthering the cycle. Nobody wanted to appear callous. Nobody wanted to admit that they had no idea who this guy was other than “they followed him on Twitter and read his blog posts once in a while.” Now they’re in tears and talking about how inspiring he was and how his death is a poignant reminder to hug the ones we love and are we sure we really know people, and so on.
It reminds me of being in eighth grade, when the horribly unpopular girl got into a car accident and died. Nobody knew her name (or if they did, it was to make fun of her) until she became a martyr. After her tragic death, every popular kid in school went out of their way to cry and show how much they cared about her and how fondly they remembered her and it was oh so sad. Signs, memorials, and speeches went on for about a week or two until they all forgot about her… again.
Well here we are again, in eighth grade. This time, it’s not an unlucky nerdy girl. It’s an unhappy nerdy adult. The popular kids are not cheerleaders and class presidents. They are social media experts and marketers.
I feel sorry for the family and (actual) friends of this poor man. I didn’t know him before his death, and I don’t know him now, so I won’t pretend that I’m horrified and saddened by his suicide. However, his death has become a social media circus, and his friends and family don’t deserve that. Social media experts, you should be ashamed.