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Death, Crises, and Social Networking

“Statistics prove that FIVE out of FIVE people will die!”

That’s what the member of the youth group had on his t-shirt.

The thing is, the shirt was RIGHT! We’re all gonna die!!!  And we will likely lose a loved one before we, ourselves, die.  Absent death, there are also going to be crises and trials that we will have to slog through (accidents, cancer, divorces, etc.) and SOCIAL NETWORKING’S IMPACT is something we need to think through ahead of time.

I mean, who wants to find out a loved one died via a “tweet”?

We have instant communications today and that can multiply the pain of human tragedy and fear.  Take the following scenario:

  • texting shock2You get the heartbreaking call that your spouse was killed in an accident on the way to work.
  • Understandably, you call a church member to activate the prayer chain and to start getting help.
  • “Somebody,” meaning well, posts it on Facebook that you need prayer because of the death of a spouse.
  • This post is seen by one of your children’s friend’s parents, who then texts the child to let them know.
  • That child then texts YOUR child, who is at school, saying they are sorry that their mom/dad was killed!
  • The post is also seen by one of your in-laws who is a “FRIEND” of your child on Facebook, and they discover the death of a loved one online via Facebook.
  • Elapsed time: Possibly under 5 minutes, counting the call to the Church.
  • FINALLY, 5-15 minutes later, you are able to get to the school, only to find a VERY distraught child and an much worse task ahead of you!

Could this really happen? You bet!  And because of that we need to plan ahead, and this is where the Church has a leadership role.  The Church can take a firm role in both educating people (especially youth) and in reducing the likelihood of this happening.

NO SOCIALNETHere are some basic steps:

  • DO NOT use any social media, including “church internal” systems like THE CITY, to notify others of the event.  Not even staff, and not even through MESSAGES instead of the WALL.
  • DO NOT discuss anything related to this type of situation in a social networking system (including phone texts), not even a “general prayer request for the Smith’s who are dealing with tragedy”, until a FAMILY MEMBER informs the Church that all relatives and close friends have been notified of the event and gives approval.
  • DO remind others who are involved to follow these guidelines as well, even if they are not on staff.  Remind them to “think before they tweet!” (i.e. “Keep this off the Internet until we can confirm that everyone is notified!“)

Kids are probably very understanding of these considerations.  The problem is: They won’t think of them unless your prepare them!!!

Therefore, parents and Church leaders should teach children and youth the following:

  • Social networking, such as Twitter, FaceBook, and texting, should NEVER be used to spread bad news.  It is too impersonal, and you don’t know if all concerned have already been notified.
  • Resist the impulse to “help” until you know that it is appropriate, and desired.
  • Regardless of how different the Younger Generation is, culturally, do not give condolences and such via social media, e-mail, and/or texting.
  • Once everyone has been notified, then feel free to coordinate ministry to the victim’s family/friends via such media but only in private modes.  Do NOT share personal reactions of the family private. (i.e. Don’t post: “Debbie was shocked, and was a total basket case when I saw her!” on your Facebook wall, etc.)

How young a child should you teach?  Well, if they are using they technology, they need to know.

Social media and other rapid communications technologies can be powerfully used.

But, we need to know the best and worst ways to use these tools, and how to avoid the latter.

What are your thoughts? How do YOU think we should respond?

Let us know by leaving a comment!

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