Valdosta Daily Times

What We Think

December 5, 2012

Era of instant messaging and bad news

VALDOSTA — The Internet is a world wide presence in nearly every home, workplace, school, church and government office. It provides invaluable access to data and information in addition to rapid means of communication. However, the downside of instant communication is becoming more recognized as tragedies, such as the recent death of a VSU student, are demonstrating.

The parents of Jasmine Benjamin have told news outlets across the country that their first notification of their daughter’s death was via Facebook, a horrific and impersonal way to find out such tragic news. Their story has resonated far and wide, broadcast on all the major networks and disseminated through popular media outlets such as People magazine.

Unfortunately, in the age of instant communication, as a society we can expect this to become far more common and the “norm” than the traditional method of learning bad news, which has typically been through law enforcement officials. Military wives learn about their husband’s deaths overseas long before the men in uniform come to their door. Even celebrity’s families learn of their loved one’s passing after the general public does. And it’s not just deaths, but divorces, accidents, pregnancies and more. There is no way to stop people from posting what they know, and the old rules about respecting privacy, especially for victim’s families, is dropping by the wayside.

News outlets typically abide by requests from law enforcement to withhold the victim’s name pending notification of next of kin, but those requests are becoming more and more difficult to honor as the person’s name is already circulating long before the paper comes out or the news airs on television.

How do we as a society cope with this new instant communication? How do the new lines get drawn about when and how and who notifications of bad news are to be done? If we can’t decide how to answer these questions, we can expect to see more of these stories repeated.

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