As you've doubtless heard, a 2-year-old boy drowned. Half an hour later, his mother tweeted about it. Exactly one of these two things has strangers really angry:
By now, you know the drill: almost immediately, commenters on news sites and around the web started pointing fingers at the mother, Shellie Ross, a prolific Twitter user with more than five thousand followers, after it was discovered that she'd posted a message about the weather a mere minute before her son was discovered in the pool - one of 70 tweets she'd already written that day. They also blamed her for tweeting a request for prayers minutes before learning the toddler had died - and, of course, for alerting readers to his death.
Any indignation over this - because that's the appropriate, immediate response to the tragedy - has been overtaken by collective shock at said vitriol, and the lack of humanity it seems to suggest. Wrote Conor Friedersdorf on the Atlantic's Daily Dish, "the callousness strangers direct via Internet at a grieving mother is a far more dire harbinger of where we're headed" than any dangerous dependence on technology. Madison McGraw, one of the most strident critics of Ross's parenting, spoke for critics when she tweeted, "Perhaps if Mrs. Ross had spent less time tweeting and more time playing with her son, this would not have happened." (If you check McGraw's Twitter, she recently added, "On my way to MSNBC to discuss if Bryson Ross would still be alive if mother wasn't tweeting.")
Let's say, for the purposes of argument, that McGraw, a woman who's never met this mother, is absolutely right: Ross had an internet addiction that made her neglect her family and led indisputably to her child's death. Are we pointing fingers at the bereaved mother, or at the technology that lured her away from her place at her children's side? Is she suggesting that this was an unstable, easily-influenced woman unfit to care for children (in which case surely she would have fallen prey to other distractions, right?) or that it was demon technology that led her astray? And let's say, which we cannot and should not, that all or some of that was true. It's just as true that this was a case where we saw the good of these same networking sites: thousands of strangers reaching out in prayer and comfort and solidarity, providing a community that one can only assume Ross - who has two other children and whose husband is deployed - valued. You couldn't have that good without the evil the critics claim. And if that comfort means nothing, well then, the criticism of strangers should mean even less.