How to Deal With Social Media When Bad Things Happen

(Hint: boundaries and empathy will get you far)


Tragedies on all scales tend to go viral. These sad and catastrophic events online let us *somewhat* experience what it is like to go through crises and chaos. We can observe from afar while drinking our cup of coffee. What we do while drinking that cup of coffee is what ensures whether we are adding to the chaos, or helping the people involved. We can help people build their resilience, or we can bring them down more.

Are you there to support? Are you there to help in some way? Or are you there to pursue your own agenda? We all mean well (ok the 99% of us who are not bots or trolls. ha!), and want to support people going through trauma, but there are good and bad ways to do it.

I've done the TEDx and LOTS of seminars on how to handle social media when something bad happens, based mostly on the fact that I have seen some @#$&. (For those who don't know me well, my TEDx talk is at the end of this. I need to do some updates to what I have learned in the last decade, so I may apply to do another one.)

Since the situation in Ukraine started and has, for lack of better phrase, made some people “go viral”, I've seen two things happen on a much larger scale on social:

  1. People are struggling with how to best support the people they follow, but who they don’t know personally.

  2. Requests are coming from people who've suddenly gone viral. They’re overwhelmed with tons of new followers, and are now begging these new followers not to send messages with simple "how are you" and who then demand a response. They also suddenly feel like they are responsible for spreading correct information about a situation. It is a huge weight on their shoulders while they’re already stressed.

How do we address these issues? With boundaries and empathy - towards others and ourselves.

Our urge to help can come from many reasons. Sometimes we want to help because we have been in their shoes in the past. We do not want others to feel like we did, but we also want to help so our losses have some sort of meaning behind them. We re-live our grief, but also experience new vicarious grief, and feel like we can take back some control over events we ourselves didn’t have control over.

My advice to those feeling all the feels while watching others go through similar situations to us, step back and breathe. We can help, but not if we’re having anxiety attacks while we try to help. That just makes it worse for everyone.

Here are a few key pieces of advice for those who are witnessing a person from a far who is going through a tragedy. These points are based on my mistakes, my experiences, and the experiences of others. I’ve also reached out too soon, commented with unhelpful advice, etc.

  • This is a real person going through REAL life. This is not there for your entertainment. This isn't a freaking TV show.

  • Keep your comments positive. They already know life is hard or that someone else has it worse off than them.

  • Don’t make assumptions about what people have or haven’t done. A simple “take or leave this advice - you may have already thought of this” is very helpful.

  • Don't make it about you. I don’t think I need to explain this further.

  • Take a step back and breathe. This is especially for my empathetic folks. If you can’t fix what that other person’s issue is, don’t internalize the crisis. You will just end up making your life miserable, when you could be using your energy to fix something you do have control over.

  • When people don't respond, don't take it personally. They may not have time! Please don’t send messages with HELLO? WHY AREN’T YOU ANSWERING ME? It’s not helpful and just makes them panic more. They also may not have seen the message!

If YOU are the one going through the viral event - breathe. It does get better.

  • Focus on you, your family, and your situation.

  • Don't argue with strangers who don’t know what they’re talking about. You will find that someone will pop in to either defend you or educate that person. Leave it to those “super fans” as I call them.

  • Visualize a brick wall between you and the person who is trying to get into your head.

  • Beware the energy vampires who want to live vicariously through you. Block them.

  • Don’t take what people say personally. People say very weird stuff and project their fears on to you. I call it the perfection vacuum. They say what they would have done in a perfect world. Ignore, delete, and or block. Don’t waste your energy engaging.

  • Drink a ton of water and get your vitamins. I’m not joking. Chronic illness comes from trauma and stress.

That’s all I have to say for today. Be good to each other - and yourself.

Have other ideas? Comment below!

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