When massive, earth-shattering news events happen, life still carries on in some corners of the world—and sometimes those corners happen to be smack-dab in the middle of where these earth-shattering events are taking place. To see what I mean, take a look at your Facebook news feed the next time something huge occurs.
I heard about the Boston bombings about thirty seconds after they happened, because one of my Facebook friends was standing on Boylston Street at the finish line of the marathon when the first bomb exploded. Evidently, the first action he took was to whip out his phone and post about the bombings. I was looking at the very top of my news feed when his post appeared, so I likely was among the first people outside of the immediate area to hear the news.
Once I’d seen this, I immediately turned on CNN, which hadn’t yet broken into special report mode. Their Boston coverage didn’t start until a minute or two after I started watching. For the rest of the day, I kept CNN on in the background, occasionally watching while I used a combination of Twitter and Facebook to figure out what was actually going on. This is because I don’t trust Wolf Blitzer, et al, to do this for me any longer—a feeling that would be validated repeatedly over the next week.
By 4 PM EDT, it seemed as though the entire world had heard about the Boston situation. Twitter was going ballistic, and every network was deep into coverage, showing the same video footage on a repeating loop and presenting various scenarios with regard to what they assumed was happening. My day, at this point, was shot to hell, and I wasn’t going to be doing anything other than following this story.
As evidenced by the way the media has covered the bombings for the past week—and by the way we’ve been riveted by everything to do with them—this was a massive story. And when massive stories happen of the sort where you remember precisely where you were and what you were doing when you first hear about them, we tend to assume that the world stops for everyone else, too.
And it does, except on Facebook.
My Facebook account is private, in the sense that I don’t use it for business purposes. It doesn’t have anything to do with my job, and there’s no connection to anything I’ve ever done with writing. I have over 500 friends—a relatively small number for someone who’s been using Facebook for over seven years—and I’m pretty sure I’ve met every single one of them in person. With that many friends, however, my news feed tends to get a bit jammed up at times, especially when my more post-happy connections get on a roll. I don’t care enough to hide anyone’s updates, so separating the wheat from the chaff occasionally becomes a bit frustrating.
About two hours after the bombings happened, I scrolled through my news feed to see if anyone had posted anything of note. Strangely, at least 25 percent of the posts I saw had absolutely nothing to do with the Boston story.
For every three “Thoughts and prayers for Boston” posts, you’d see one or two CrossFit memes. For every three news links, you’d see a post about the Knicks. For every three direct updates from Boston—I have several friends who live there—you’d see a guy complaining about his job, or posting a “LinkedIn’s Top Ten Networking Tips” link, or putting up a picture of his new rims, his dog, his kids, or his latest home improvement project.
I wondered if these people knew. I assumed they didn’t, but if you’re posting this sort of material on Facebook in the midst of what essentially amounts to a national emergency—at the very least, it was the biggest news story of the year—can you not see what everyone else is posting? If you didn’t see, and didn’t know, I can understand blissfully going about your business, but what does it say about you if you did know?
I’m giving people the benefit of the doubt here. Things can happen that you don’t hear about, and I’m sure the thousands of people who posted Willy Wonka memes at 3:30 PM last Monday feel ridiculous about it now. I know I would.
In fact, I’ve done something similar. Last New Year’s Eve, one of my best friends, whose life was pretty much decimated by Sandy, posted on Facebook about how he wished 2013 would be a far better year than 2012. In his comments section, I made a point of saying that 2012 was awesome for me, and that I was going to continue that momentum in 2013—conveniently forgetting that half the people reading, including my friend, were likely still homeless from the storm.
So, I won’t judge. I suppose there’s a lesson to be learned here—something akin to looking both ways before you cross the street. The next time you’re about to post a SomeEcards meme, an appeal to save pit bulls, or a “letter from Bill Cosby,” make sure we’re clear of natural disasters, political assassinations, and declarations of war before you publish.