Our emotions run high after a day like yesterday. We are outraged. We want to help. But for most of us our only direct connection to the people in Boston is through the keyboard of our computer via Facebook. When we see a picture like the one above our first instinct is to immediately share this outrage with our Facebook friends. As of 8:20 AM EST, this version of this image was shared by more than 37,000 people (up from 31,000 an hour earlier).
But do you know what you are sharing? Consuming news and information on the Internet, Facebook and Twitter requires a healthy dose of skeptisism. There is an enourmous amount of crap out there, including this picture and the description with it.
It was not a girl, but an eight-year-old boy who was one of three people murdered yesterday in Boston. His name is Martin Richard. His death is tragic enough that we don’t need a back story connecting a child’s fictional death to the Newtown tragedy to get our attention. Even if you didn’t know that information, there were a couple pretty obvious warning signs that this image and message were a hoax, including that this girl was participating, not in the Boston Marathon, but a 5K.
There are people out there who know many of us are easy marks after something like this. Some of them will be asking you for money. Others will try to suck you into their political cause. And then there are the ones who get their jollies by getting us all worked up over something that just didn’t happen.
We all have friends on Facebook whose day isn’t complete unless they are outraged or mourning something or many things. There is no filter between what they read and the share button. Some of it comes from what a journalist in St. Louis referred to a number of years ago as COD, Compulsive Outrage Disorder. For others, it comes from a good, well-meaning place of just wanting to show compassion.
Believe it or not, there are ways any of us sitting at home watching can help after a tragedy that go a little beyond telling your friends to wear a certain color or to post a certain picture. Among them, volunteering for an organization that is assisting victims or donating to a legitimate charity in honor of a victim.
And while it takes more time and effort than liking a slogan or a poster on Facebook, we can actually increase our own knowledge and undertsanding of what happened by finding the real stories of the real victims and taking the time to read them. Then maybe you will be inspired to write a few sentences to send to your friends, sharing your own thoughts rather than forwarding someone else’s slogan or agenda.
But even if you don’t like any of those suggestions, please just do a favor to all your Facebook friends and be a little more cautious and skeptical before hitting the share button. When we share a picture like this one, I think we are actually dishonoring the people we were intending to honor.