Yet Another Social Media Reaction Leaves Widow Emotionally Wounded


Imagine having to weather the untimely death of your spouse.

Now imagine going through that while an army of social media yahoos, armed with nothing but their own biases and knee-jerk assumptions, classify your spouse’s death s the result of drug or alcohol abuse. That’s what a woman was left dealing with this weekend when her husband, a security guard working the popular WE Fest event, died in his camper there.

The grief and shock of losing her husband unexpectedly is compounded by the initial public reaction, voiced on social media, that Troy Lee’s death must have been linked to alcohol or illicit drug use.

That early theory, fueled by years of public perception of excessive alcohol use at the Midwest’s largest country music festival, was debunked by officials who reported Lee’s death was neither alcohol nor drug-related. Nor was it by Lee’s own hand, his widow said Sunday.

Officials previously told The Forum that no foul play was suspected and that an autopsy would be performed.

The Island Park photographer. The Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil the Lion. Now this example, and no doubt hundreds of others we could name.

As I wrote in my column last week (one place to catch it is in the High Plains Reader), social media has become a mob. An irrational, capricious hive mind that is almost exactly as dangerous as a toddler wielding a loaded handgun.

I have long been a champion of democratized online media where information needn’t flow through traditional gatekeepers like newspaper editors and producers. I still am, but recent events ranging from the hate Cecil the Lion incident to the Donald Trump candidacy should give us all pause for reflection.

Years ago the North Dakota Republican Party asked me to speak on a panel about online media at one of their events. This was back when blogs were the hot new thing (SAB existed years before Facebook and Twitter, if you can believe that), and someone asked me how people in the future were going to be able to tell good information from bad in a world where pretty much anyone can publish for the masses.

I said that it was going to be incumbent upon the consumer of the content to evaluate its veracity for themselves. You wouldn’t think that would be asking too much. Apparently it is.

Please think before you post, and remember that what you write can have consequences.