Thursday, December 17, 2009

On Grief and Twitter

From Florida Today...
MERRITT ISLAND — A child’s jumbled train tracks and a toppled plastic dinosaur lie on the floor by the Ross family’s Christmas tree, left behind by 2-year-old Bryson before he drowned in the family’s swimming pool Monday evening.

But it’s what has been happening on the Internet that has people talking about the tragedy and what is acceptable in today’s world of instant communication and tell-all messaging.

Bryson’s mother, Shellie Ross, posted on about his accident a half-hour after she called paramedics — and then was attacked by strangers nationwide in follow-up tweets and blogs for doing so.

Social media experts said Ross did nothing wrong. Her friends call the 37-year-old a caring, devoted mom.

On Monday, as usual, she tweeted throughout the day about what was going on in her life, including decorating the family’s Christmas tree with breakable ornaments — despite having a 2-year-old in a house they had just moved into on Dec. 1. At 5:22 p.m. Monday, she tweeted about the rare fog that rolled over Brevard County as she worked in her chicken coop.

According to 9-1-1 records, a phone call from Ross came in at 5:38 p.m. that she had found her son at the bottom of their screened-in swimming pool.

She posted a tweet at 6:12 p.m.: “Please pray like never before, my 2 yr old fell in the pool.” That was followed five hours later with “remembering my million dollar baby” and photos of a smiling Bryson. Those posts and pictures have since been removed from her Twitter account. There is nothing in Ross’ posts that indicate she was on the computer or cell phone at the time of the tragedy. It is unclear what Ross was doing between 5:22 p.m., when she tweeted, and 5:38 p.m., when she called for help. In a tweet posted Tuesday morning, Ross wrote, “I was outside with him and it took two seconds for him to slip away.” The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office called it an accidental drowning.

Once Ross posted her call for prayers, Twitter users started weighing in with words of support, as well as comments and questions about the boy’s fate and Ross’ Twittering to friends, family and strangers at such a difficult time.

But social media specialists said criticism of Ross is unfair, noting that she’s simply tech-savvy and using a familiar way to communicate. They added that it’s inappropriate to question her actions at such a horrible time in her life.

Madison McGraw, who does not know the Ross family, tweeted about the incident and also posted an item on her blog titled “Mom Tweets While Son Drowns.” “The person that I have compassion for is her son — who might still be alive if (Ross) interacted with her son like she interacted with people on Twitter,” McGraw wrote. “To me, that shows the repercussions for social media gone awry.”

Asked by FLORIDA TODAY if she thought it was appropriate to attack a woman she doesn’t know who just lost her son, McGraw responded, “If she didn’t want questions raised at such a painful time, perhaps she shouldn’t have tweeted immediately after her child died. A child is dead because (of) his mother’s infatuation with Twitter.”

Unlike McGraw, Shari Keating knows Ross and considers her a friend. They met via blog and social networking conferences. Keating spent Monday night at the Ross home comforting her before Ross’ husband, Steve, arrived from out of town. Steve Ross is a sergeant stationed at Patrick Air Force Base.Keating called Ross a fantastic mother who is devoted to her children. Ross has two other sons, 18-year-old Cody and 11-year-old Kris.“To judge her, I think, is appalling,” Keating said. “You have to realize that blogging is a community.”

Peter Post, great-grandson of etiquette expert Emily Post and director of the Vermont-based Emily Post Institute, agreed. He called McGraw’s comment “horrendous in its implications.”“I’m not sure this is the appropriate time or place to be chastising anyone,” he said.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am a twitterholic. I LOVE Twitter. It's great for getting breaking news before any other outlet. It's a fabulous marketing tool. But above all, it IS a community. I have TONS of new acquaintances, and have made several very good friends via Twitter. When we had to put one of our cats down, I mentioned it on Twitter. The outpouring of support was amazing. We all share happy news, bad news, and just the mundane goings on at that particular moment. Shoot - my tweeps (twitter people) know more about my day than my husband!!!

That being said, there are also things I don't share on Twitter. If something is very personal to me, usually bad news, and I want support I do one of a few things. I'll pick up the phone. I'll send an email. Or, using twitter, I'll send a DM (direct message) to specific people. I believe that there are some things that shouldn't be broadcast. But...BUT...that's me.

Since I follow Ms. Ross on Twitter, I watched this whole thing go down. I'll admit, my first thought, after saying a prayer, was "Why the hell is she tweeting at a time like this?" But people use Twitter in many different ways, so it's not for me to judge. I think the comments that Ms. McGraw made were so far over the line, they were in the next county. Who is she to jump to that kind of conclusion? How in the world does she know what was going on at that time? Sad as it may be, perhaps this is the only community Ms. Ross has.

I guess there's no real point to this post, except to say that unless we've walked a mile in another person's shoes, we shouldn't judge. Would I have tweeted at a time like that? I can almost guarantee the answer to that is no. But that's me. What I do know is this family is suffering a terrible loss during the holidays, and I'll be praying for them.


  1. Ok, I can understand asking for prayers, but past that.... It's a bit eery. Although, maybe she just felt very alone, and that was how she kept a grasp?

  2. As sad as it is, that's kinda what I was thinking...though it still does seem strange.