Social Media & Social Etiquette, Boston Tragedy brings issue to light

In class this week,we addressed the social media frenzy that followed the unfolding of the tragic events that occurred in Boston earlier this week (two explosions went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon). As we mentioned in class and as Sarah references in her blog post, the reaction was quick and in many cases inaccurate. Individuals were arguably disrespecting the horrific tragedy by spreading false information and fabricating mythical iconic characters that died in the horrific event.

While this issue is very strongly argued to be breaking the rules of social media etiquette, there has been another, more subtle violation  to one’s “online manners.” Many active social media users were alarmed by the prevalent apathy that seemed to plague many Facebook and Twitter uses in the past few days following the event. Rather than publishing content that payed respect to the victims of the incident or at the very least refrain from posting happy, trivial statuses, many users were observed posting Spring Break Photos and complaining about having too many great summer music festivals to choose from.

This all raised the fundamental question: what isn’t appropriate to digitally talk about during a national tragedy?

“There are no concrete rules about these things, but you want to think about who it is affecting, how many people, the scope and scale before you share and as you move into sharing other things,” Jodi R.R. Smith, author of “The Etiquette Book,” told ABC News in an interview. (

It seems that users need to recognize the larger context they are in, their posts much reach a wider audience than they initially expect them to, and they could be linked to someone who was affected in some manner by the tragedy.

However, some argue it’s ultimately the choice of the one who has been personally affected by the incident. Since they have no control over all the users they are linked to on these sites and all the potential content they may post, it is wise for them to remove themselves from the social media for the time being. Someone is ought to post something that will make them feel uncomfortable in this sensitive time.

I personally agree that on both ends, users must be conscious of the other users. Since one might be in a fragile state of mind, it is important that they are not connected to such a large and overwhelming social network. At the same time, if something so tragic happens, it is pretty justified to ask users to hold of their daily junk for another time, so they don’t distract individuals from important updates.

How would you all define social etiquette? In the scenarios provided, was social etiquette violated?


One response to “Social Media & Social Etiquette, Boston Tragedy brings issue to light

  • mattbrandeburg

    You pose a very difficult question. I guess my take away is that we have come to expect our friends to share largely irrelevant information (prayers for boston, while appropriate, is one example of a status change that was not spreading false rumors or allegations), but we still expect news outlets to provide us with authoritative details. I wonder if a trend could arise where twitters such as AP, while they kept refreshing so you didn’t look elsewhere, would use something like “#developing” or redirect to liveblogs that only culled from official sources. It seems if we could find a way to keep readers engaged in a slower information refresh cycle, then the news outlet could retain credibility. In other words, the lack of credibility seems to be a result of trying to boost readership with the thought that people need some kind of information, regardless of its validity, if they are to stay focused on your site.

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