On Saturday evening, on hearng about the death of Amy Winehouse, I turned to facebook and twitter. I don't know why Amy's death hit me so hard, I didn't even listen to her music particularly although, when it came on the radio I was impressed by her amazing talent. Maybe because she was a young Jewish woman from NW London who could have been any of my friends' daughters. Maybe because I had some insight into her upbringing and family background and it was close to home. Who knows.
This was my first national tragedy shared on social networking sites as I've only been on fb/twitter since January. Having enjoyed the comraderie and hilarity of the Royal Wedding with friends across the globe, I thought there would be a similar coming together (for those interested at all) to share the love and support, though obviously of a different nature.
On twitter there was shock about the news and an outpouring of RIP tweets. And something else. People genuinely angry about the insensitive comments (and jokes even) that some people feel compelled to post. As if there is no real person behind the celebrity character, as if she left no grieving family. I didn't get any of these tweets of extremely bad taste in my timeline as I follow fewer than 100 people and all of them are very nice. However, those I follow were switching off in anger and only returning to unfollow the insensitive, unfeeling and generally misguided.
On facebook an even more surprising thing happened. I read at least four posts declaring, in the opinion of the authors, the follow sentiments:
1. The circumstances of Amy's death meant she did not deserve such sorrow.
2. How dare I be upset when other major tragedies had occurred the same weekend and that these had not affected me in the same way showed me to be lacking in... I don't know what. Compassion?
3. Amy willfully brought about her demise because addiction is a choice.
To answer 1. and 2. - If I share my feelings on facebook it is because this is how I feel. I do not appreciate being told how appropriate my feelings are (or aren't). I do not expect my feelings to be graded on a sliding scale according to other concurrent events. As my friend E pointed out, Mother Theresa died the same week as Princess Diana. I cried for Princess Diana - deal with it.
The arguments around point 3. swiftly slipped into a war of words and symantics. What does choice mean? Did she want to die? I don't think so - which for me is the bottom line. Or maybe she did and if so, was this her choice or was it also the mental desease taking control? I am not a mental health expert and neither are most of my fb friends who joined the discussion.
My overall impression is that, whereas death has always been carefully tip-toed around in order to respect the dead and and not cause added distress to the grieving families, facebook has turned us all into Op-Ed authorities with our own private following. I have been to funerals of suspected suicides where any hushed murmerings were quickly silenced. I have been to funerals where wrong choices may have been made and things could have turned out differently. Non of these occasions were times to be judgemental and those with opinions kept them to themselves.
Social networking sites are a wonderful thing. My world has expanded incredibly since joining facebook and twitter. But something happens when you write to the world from your kitchen table. Unlike at a dinner party when a forceful opinion can be retracted, modified or at least explained less forcefully in accordance with the immediate reactions, a post on fb/twitter is there in writing. You can remove it without trace only if you get there before the comments start coming in or you can try to explain or expand your point of view, again in writing. I express my opinion here on my blog which has a similar effect. As I said, the posts on fb/twitter surprised me although I still agree that everyone is entitled to their opinion. But, at the time of writing, death to me is still sacred. It still commands respect and hushed tones - especially in the case of an untimely and tragic death.