UPDATED 15:49 EDT / DECEMBER 17 2009

Social Media Gone Awry: When Mommybloggers Attack

imageI had intended, today, to focus solely on coding and site issues, as I have been doing for the last 36 hours (aside from a brief nap). I made the mistake at glancing at the headlines a few minutes ago to see what parts of the world had passed me by, and I caught a story from Kim LaCapria over at the Inquisitr that really caught in my craw, and I couldn’t let pass without comment.

In case you hadn’t seen it, Shellie Ross, the author of the fairly popular Blog4Mom mommyblog, tweeted out yesterday: “Please pray like never before, my 2 yr old fell in the pool.” She has since protected her tweetstream, so while I can’t get a direct screenshot (I’ve borrowed this one from Kim’s post), I remember seeing it retweeted a number of times the other day.

imageAbout five hours after the initial tweet, she said on Twitter: “Remembering my million dollar baby http://twitpic.com/tkt9t.”

It’s a tragic story, though not particularly worthy of note in the grand scheme of things, particularly on a blog dealing primarily with “grand picture” of technology news, trends and analysis. There are a million tragedies a day in this world, and many of which are routinely documented on social networking sites.

Tuesday morning, though, is when insult was quite literally added to injury. Unable to let a woman grieve in community with the assemblage of friends that had come to support her in her hours of tragedy, segments of the media and the mommy-blogosphere saw fit to publicly flog the poor woman for allowing an accident like this to happen, and put the blame squarely on the shoulders of Shellie’s “addiction to Twitter.”

From Kim’s Inquisitr post:

Those of us who use the internet daily for work or maintaining important relationships may not find that shocking- and stay at home moms (or dads) are a group in particular who rely on the godsend of internet companionship to alleviate the loneliness that can settle in when parenting small children. So when tragedy visited her family, she reached out to her friends- and was reminded cruelly in her time of need that everyone on the internet isn’t always your friend.

Kim points to one mommy blogger in particular, Madison McGraw, who has taken it upon herself to not only blog a dissenting opinion on the topic (which, while not in good taste, is certainly her right), but reach out to the media and offer her armchair analysis as to why Shellie deserves no time to grieved. From Florida Today:

Madison McGraw, who does not know the Ross family, tweeted about the incident and also posted an item on her blog, at www.madisonmcgraw.com, 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.”

McGraw’s Twitter account lists her hometown as being Bucks County, Pa., which is near Allentown.

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.”

This story hits particularly close to home for me as a work-from-home father.  My son is roughly the same age, and he’s at a stage of development where all it takes for him to get into trouble is for him to be out of site for literally two minutes.  Just this morning, I was on a video conference with Michael Sean Wright, and I stepped out on the back patio for a quick smoke, and even with my son in plain sight, he still managed to lock the back door without my noticing (which is why, incidentally, I always keep a spare key to imagethe front door in my wallet).

Twitter addiction has nothing to do with it – as a mommyblogger (just as in my situation), using Twitter is a very important part of what brings home the bacon, and two year olds are generally rambunctious trouble-seekers.

McGraw is certainly right about one thing: social media has gone awry.  I understand that when you’re a blogger and twitterer with a wide following, you’re open to rebuttal in the same way that many celebrities find their private lives open to scrutiny. The difference is, here, is that in the pursuit of attention and internet-fame, bloggers like McGraw feel it necessary to create a three-news-cycle item, cashing in on the tragedy of one of her peers.

Since McGraw has turned Shellie’s son’s drowning into an international incident, Shellie has taken both her blog and her twitter stream offline (as well as removed postings from TwitPic of her son’s memorial photos). McGraw has, in essence, caused Shellie to withdraw from her community in the same way that a few rotten apples caused Kathy Sierra to withdraw from the blogosphere two years ago.

The impulse to share with people who care about you that a major tragedy has occurred isn’t social media gone awry.  Feeling it’s incumbent upon you to demonize in the news media a mother, and one of your peers, who’s going through her life’s greatest grief is social media gone awry.

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