Finger-Pointing, Self-Righteousness And Middle Fingers

Posted by

A moment of silence, please…

While we held that moment of silence, what was happening around you? Did people respect it? Did they go about their daily lives? What about Twitter and Facebook? Did those feeds come to sudden halt? Did the feeds continue with the hashtag #momentofsilence describing the scene? Did everyone in restaurants and sporting events stop in silence? There are more tragedies and atrocities happening in the world at any given moment than our stomachs can bear. These are sensitive and disturbing times. With that, we all handle this type of news in our own way. The majority of people on social media channels and platforms are hardly media experts – able to understand the nuances of what it means to be so public and publishing our constant thoughts out to the world – and so, their reactions are visceral and personal.

Unleash the kraken!

I did not hear about the tragedy in Newtown until early afternoon on December 14th. I even conducted a podcast interview that morning and probably tweeted out (or posted on Facebook) my usual slew of random drivel or curated pieces of content that caught my attention. I tend to only catch the more general news in the evening or if something pops up in my feeds. If I’m to be honest, I often post to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn without ever looking at the activity on the channels. It’s ironic that I’m adding to the noise through the work that I’m doing, but I don’t want to be distracted by the very same type of content. If you were following the horrors of Newtown online, it would be easy to surmise that I wasn’t being all that sensitive to those who were following it. Well, there were more than a few individuals who took it on themselves to advise individuals – in a very public way – how "disrespectful" they were being. How could someone be shilling for their business or cracking jokes when young children had just been murdered?

The classic one-upsmanship.

Self-righteous or not, it begs the question: how do we – as very public individuals and brands – act, react and engage when there is this kind of public attention happening on a specific tragedy? As I read the tweet stream of these individuals attacking others, I looked around. People were still eating in restaurants, football games were still on TV, the comedy station was running a stand-up special, people were still posting pictures of their cats online, party music was being played on the radio and much more kept rolling on. Does it mean that everyone in the world is insensitive? Does it mean that we all mourn or deal with tragedy in different ways? I’m no ethics professor. In fact, my general philosophy is: "too each his/her own." While the tragedy in Newtown cannot be diminished, I felt genuinely bad for those that were being called out, publicly, on Twitter, for not behaving in a way that others felt they should be acting considering the circumstances.

Here’s the thing:

The brands (and individuals) that find themselves in trouble are usually the ones that have removed the humanity, community and sincerity from their content. These are the brands that are the losers. Sadly, the truth is this: disaster or not, the brands that remove humanity, community and sincerity from their content will always be the losers. Whether it is during a disaster or not. As for those who were busy accusing others of being insensitive, it’s important to look beyond the content and understand the context. When all else fails, the best plan of attack for an individual or a brand in the face of a tragedy is to do this: nothing. Just back away from the Twitter and Facebook until you feel that the storm has passed. This way, you’re not offending anyone or doing something that could be misconstrued. Silence can sometimes be golden. The same can be said to those who feel it’s important to call out and insult the activities of others.

It’s easy to point fingers. Be careful where, how and when you point them.


  1. Being insulting about being insulted never made much sense to me. I think it is a delicate balance, though, for brands, to switch subjects just a bit. You don’t want to jump in and look as if you’re trying to exploit the tragedy (as Kmart did by adding their promotional hashtag to their tweets of consolation). You also don’t want radio silence.
    Maybe the best thing to do is watch what your customers do. If they’re talking, you should be too.

  2. Thanks for this.
    There was a lot of mud being slung around this weekend, and some very high emotions.
    You’re right. Sometimes silence is the best option.

  3. So long as a brand is sincere, I see nothing wrong with them saying, “in the wake of these terrible events, we’re going to hold off on posting,” or something like that. The problem/challenge is this: terrible events are happening every moment. Right now. Children are dying from malnutrition in Africa, militant regimes are torturing their citizens in other parts of the world and more. We all feel for these things, but it doesn’t stop us from tweeting and more, does it?

  4. Liked this, Mitch…
    “When all else fails, the best plan of attack for an individual or a brand in the face of a tragedy is to do this: nothing.”
    Yep. I wrote about this on Monday, and I feel like the best way to handle these situations is as follows:
    1) Stop everything
    2) Watch and listen to how other brands are acting and users are responding
    3) Contribute to the discussion (or say nothing)
    4) Evaluate planned content
    5) When things begin returning to normal, reboot
    In many cases, the best response was no response at all. If you have something of value to add, add it. But it needs to be sincere.
    While brands weren’t intentionally insensitive, it’s still careless to not address your tone and planned messaging on a day like that. While we all handle these things differently, how I handle it doesn’t matter. I need to know how users are handling it and react accordingly.

  5. Smart, thoughtful post, Mitch.
    Thank you for pointing out the fact that folks react/deal with tragedies in different ways – that’s what makes us unique, human.
    Personally, I didn’t feel much of anything the Friday of the shooting, while it seemed most others around me were quite emotional. It wasn’t until Sunday that the reality of what’d happened set in for me, and I wept over those beautiful kids and their families who were senselessly robbed of so much joy and meaningful experiences with those whose lives were lost.
    Perception is not always reality, which is why it’s good to suspend our judgmental thoughts, as you stated. We’re far too reactive.

  6. I wrote to myself rather than the world. As a father and a grandfather I could not imaging losing a child or a grandchild to a senseless act. But in a world of public, I decided to remain private. Praying for them, and then going about my business. Brilliant piece Mitch.

  7. The difference here is that you (and I) are from a world where were writers first. These people are just communicating. They probably don’t see it as publishing or media or whatever. The problem with that is that those who do see it as media then judge these people. All around, it’s one big shame.

  8. “there were more than a few individuals who took it on themselves to advise individuals – in a very public way – how “disrespectful” they were being…when young children had just been murdered.”
    If someone, whose personal purpose is to post content to better the world, is held to being “all-knowing of all the evils in the world within minutes of their occurrence”, that’s a bit unrealistic, isn’t it? If those heckler remarks were directed at you, my respect lies with you, and you’re being too hard on yourself. Their bandwidth would have been better used to email the ATF with a sincere, implementable suggestion on how to preclude such disasters in the future.

Comments are closed.