Column: We must avoid contributing to overwhelming discourse during tragedy

Hysteria and blame in tragedy’s wake helps no one, especially on social media.

Do you choose to expose yourself to information and imagery that will surely trigger pain, anxiety, grief or anger?

Distance from tragedy affords us this privilege. Whether or not to see the pictures, to read the graphic testimony, to hear that a child was killed is all up to us.

We crave information as it comes. We subject ourselves to painful information because we need to gain clarity and understanding.

But overwhelmed by everything coming at me on Twitter – the tweets of Islamophobes looking to affirm their twisted politics; the pictures of brutally injured people lying frightened in the street, hoping not to die; the need for some to make a joke; the inevitable political discourses – I find no clarity.

When people say tragedy is sobering, I can’t relate at all – there’s nothing sobering about anger and grief, particularly as they bottle. Information gained while lying in my bed provokes the lowest of emotions from me while disarming me to do anything. My emotion – my need to do something – is triggered, yet I have nowhere to go with it other than, inevitably, social media.

My primary emotion is anger, but how can one really use that anger when you’re alone and continuing to refresh your feed, continuing to read upsetting information and manipulative commentary?

I’m mad at those who planned and executed the attack. I’m mad at those who espouse racist rhetoric, and I’m frustrated with people who draw attention to that rhetoric. I’m furious with people who circulate graphic images without warning. I’m pissed at news outlets looking to score points and perpetuate Islamophobia.

I’m baffled that people can be focusing on anything else right now. I’m unfairly annoyed by people who aren’t as mad as me. And I’m mad at myself for letting myself get so emotional.

The paradox of social media during a tragedy is that we use it to find community, reassurance and a sense that things at some level are okay, but finding this community is almost impossible while sifting through premature commentary, baseless polemics and grim details.

This isn’t to say we should pad ourselves from “reality” – I don’t want to log on to Twitter and only read sanctimonious calls for prayer and positive spin. But I equally don’t want to be so consumed by the white noise of commentary that my political and emotional compasses become skewed and misguided. I don’t want to be so angered by what I see that I inevitably feed into the mass of unneeded hysteria and misplaced anger churned along by the immediacy demanded by Twitter.

I’m not asking that we be composed in the moment; I certainly wasn’t composed as events unfolded. I’m also not saying we should hold ourselves to a standard of “practicality” when it comes to reining in our emotions or choosing to engage in critical conversations. Sometimes there’s nothing “practical” we can do or say when we feel enraged or horrified when tragedy occurs, and especially when we see people projecting their politics onto it or making a joke out of it.

But we can’t stoop ourselves to the level of providing useless commentary that puts our followers and ourselves in a deeper state of dread. We must be the custodians of our public forum and ensure our discourse is focused on the most prominent subjects at the time: the victims, sensitivity for their privacy and the need for heightened safety and care.

Don’t feed into trolls, don’t give the limelight to Islamophobes and conspiracy theorists, and don’t let your outpouring of emotion make the situation about you. In a cloud of misinformation and manipulative discourse, we must try our best to remain above the fray and guide attention to what really matters.

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