When a big tragedy breaks, like the devastating Oklahoma tornado earlier this week, we instinctually want to be a part of it, help out and get the word out on where help can be found.
But do we dwell on it too much? Do we become “tragedy trolls”? Sometimes. Here’s some warning signs to look out for…
Joshua DuBois over at The Daily Beast published a guide today to tip you off if you’re handling tragedies correctly, or are riding a negative crest of emotion over the top.
Some of his check points:
Give our leaders a break (at least for a couple of days).
After the news that a massive tornado had struck two school buildings in Oklahoma—which we later found out had killed at least 24 people, including nine children—conservative pundit Erick Erickson (whom I actually admire) joked about reports that White House staff haven’t communicated information on recent scandals to the president, tweeting, “I wonder when President Obama will find out about Oklahoma.”
Listen: criticism of our elected officials is fair game—even after a tragedy. Real decisions by real politicians cause real impacts on people’s lives, and when they run for public office, they’re signing up to be poked, prodded, and even ridiculed.
But in the immediate aftermath of tragedies, let’s give our politicians a break. Let’s encourage their efforts in the immediate aftermath of these events. There will be plenty of time to bash the White House staff after the wounded have been attended to and the dead have been buried. But for decency’s sake, maybe we can give it a little time.
Think before you share.
There is a very good chance that the email you received or the number you texted after a disaster does not in fact belong to the Red Cross. Instead it belongs to some guy in Eastern Europe five routers away with a tricked-out PayPal account and a big smile on his face. And he really, really wants to you click on that link.
A few rules of thumb to guard against this foolishness:
—There’s a (clunkily named, but very effective) coalition called the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. Its members are the vast majority of the legit disaster-response organizations in the country. Do your best to donate to these groups only; there are official links to them on the NVOAD website.
—If it doesn’t pass the smell test, don’t retweet or share it. I can’t tell you how many tweets I’ve received or shares I’ve seen on Facebook from family and friends unwittingly spreading links to fraudsters (I’m looking at you, Grandma). This is serious business: the more people who donate to the bad guys, the less is received by the good guys.
redcross.org) and share that link. Don’t tweet or share without thinking, thereby unnecessarily making yourself a part of the problem.—If you have any doubt about the legitimacy of a donation link you saw online, go to the source website yourself (e.g.,Get your photos from legit sources.I’ve fallen for this one. Inevitably a jokester will share a chilling—but fake—photo after a disaster, and we then pass it along like it’s gospel. This is a tough one to avoid, so after having been burned a few times, I try to only retweet photos from reputable news organizations. In terms of individuals, I have found Andrew Kaczynski from BuzzFeed to be a de facto post-disaster photo legitimizer. If he’s sharing it, it’s likely to be legit, and if he’s knocking a fake picture down, you can help him spread the word.Remember that the Golden Rule doesn’t stop at the Internet’s edge.
Sometimes these horrific events—an explosion in Boston, a shooting in Connecticut, a tornado in Oklahoma—feel a million miles away from our daily lives.
But the fact of the matter is, somewhere in Moore, Oklahoma, a child who narrowly escaped disaster, and whose friends weren’t so fortunate, is logging onto Facebook or Twitter, hoping to indulge in a little normalcy in this insane week. Sure, it’s a one in a million chance—but what if she saw your tweet? Would you be OK with what you wrote? Or what if—heaven forbid—you were among the families of the lost? How would you like your fellow citizens to respond?
It’s a free country, and we have the liberty to do pretty much whatever we want after disaster strikes. But I’m reminded of an old saying, first found in the book of Corinthians: “Everything is permissible—but not everything is beneficial.” That seems to sum up the choices we face after tragedy in this new social-media world.