- A person’s life cannot be compressed into 140 characters
- Social media provides an outlet for strangers to express their sadness without really knowing the person
- Tweeting condolences has become a form of publicity-seeking
Peaches Geldof died recently. She has left a family behind and my condolences go out to them. This article is not about Peaches Geldof however; instead, more broadly, it is about how the public has reacted, via social media.
Many people, especially those of younger generations, will have heard the news and rushed to their computers to express their own sadness using the medium of social media. You, like myself, I am sure will have witnessed the Facebook posts and Twitter updates in Peaches Geldof’s memory. Often other famous faces too head onto social media to express their sadness upon the death of another in the public eye; in this case the names included Lily Allen, Simon Cowell and Ellie Goulding.
It seems whenever a public figure dies the first thing one must do is log in to their Twitter account and write 140 characters about their own sadness and offer condolences to the family. 140 characters doesn’t seem like a lot to me. When I die I hope that 140 characters is not enough to describe a person’s sadness, or describe their hopes for the well-being of my family. 140 characters. To put that into context, this article is already 1,191 characters long: 210 words. I wouldn’t want my existence, my life on earth and everything I’ve done, to be compressed into 210 words – let alone 140 characters!
This is probably the reason each time any famous person dies the tweets almost seem to be the same as one another – 140 characters isn’t enough. I’m paraphrasing but they all follow this kind of format “(Enter name here) was a kind, caring person. Can’t believe their dead. I hope the family is okay”. Each and every time something tragic happens, it is always the same. Each one almost blurs into the next as a meaningless message in honour of the deceased and their family.
You might think I’m being cynical… maybe I am. Of course, the people leaving these messages on social media just want to express their sadness regarding the world’s loss. These messages often do provide some comfort to the family of the deceased – this being my biggest reason to advocate them. Messages saying that the person from your family was a good person, and that they will be missed, must be comforting to hear in such a situation. Social media provides an outlet for millions to express their condolence, each message from people affected would add to your confidence that the deceased made an impact upon the world and in people’s lives. As I said… maybe I’m being cynical.
Yet, I really don’t think that I am! Sure, each person will be sad to hear the news of a death; but if the person in question did not affect their life in any major way, then writing their own memorial via twitter may appear just as meaningful to them as how many retweets the tweet gets. Some tweet just to show that they are up-to-date with current affairs – they’re ‘in the know’. Other famous faces may tweet when a public figure dies to show they are fans that they are a ‘good person’, so much so that you should buy their record or watch their program – a nice, easy publicity stunt.
Here then we see, that people’s motives when updating their twitter status may not all be morally perfect. Furthermore, if my mother died tomorrow, and there were millions of people that didn’t know her – I mean really know her – posting online about her, I would feel as though her memory was being diminished, not brightened. They wouldn’t have known my mum; the things she did and liked, the kind of person she was, whether she liked ice cream or really hated it. Without really knowing if she was absolutely horrible (which she’s not); “She was a great woman,” they would say. Thanks.
140 characters isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to remember a person.
I will end by quoting a line from a rap song – or spoken word if that makes you feel better about it. The artist is Milo, ironically you can follow him at @yomilo, listen to his stuff, it’s excellent. Milo lost his friend, or brother, or both, I can’t really tell. Many of his songs are written in the memory of this person – yet Milo acknowledges that he will never be able to write a song that will fully be able to remember his friend in a way that is truly enough. The line in question is this:
I’m not trying to compress your existence into nicely rapped tidbits
That’d be an insult to your memory as well as metaphysics
This is beyond my f****** limits
This is how I feel about social media. A person’s existence can not be compressed into 140 characters. Nor a Facebook status. A person’s memory is sacred; people are sacred. I won’t post a tweet about Peaches Geldof’s death; I think it would be an insult to her memory, as well as metaphysics.
Milo – Just Us