It’s hard to believe I’m writing this, but given we begin our lives as parasites to our mothers I suppose I should acknowledge our innate inclination to use others for our own gain. After all, I’m not sure there’s a person in this world who sees their life through a secondary lens so I guess I shouldn’t be too upset when people’s actions reflect their perspective of those around them as minor characters of a play in which they’re the protagonist. And it’s not like mankind has ever known what to do with its dead. We burn, bury, sacrifice, and desecrate our deceased according to our beliefs on the sanctity of the human life and its progression on a daily basis, why should our handling of death on social media be particularly surprising? Still, I can’t help but feel wholly disgusted when I see someone blatantly exploiting a death for their own online benefit. It’s like the macabre version of the boy who cried wolf. As social media and the internet further toxify our sense of civility the immorality of gaming the dead for relevancy fades and is replaced by a societal insistence on the necessity of remarking upon how everyone fits into our lives. It’s gone overboard and it’s time to stop. It’s time to stop using dead people for clout.
My earliest exposure to this bizarre and shameless trend was the #StopKony hashtag in 2012. All the locals from my hometown, including some who I know couldn’t fathom exerting real effort to helping a minority canvassed their social media pages with #StopKony and #StopKony2012. The really brave ones linked the documentary the hashtag originated from along with various evocative monologues about the wrenching their conscience just received upon realizing horrors such as this could occur in the world. The campaign worked, at least if the goal of its creators was to front load social media with their brand, because for about a week it was all the trendy people online could post about. People posted and tweeted and YouTubed their hearts out and for some reason no one paused to consider whether any of this amounted to real effort to stop Kony, or whether the greatest beneficiaries of this propaganda machine were everyone’s social media status.
Since then it’s only gotten worse. The first moments on social media following a tragedy are like an auction house. Someone will create a hashtag, which serves as the currency for the clout to be bid upon. Bids are taken in the form of grandiose virtue signaling through fallacies such as straw man, ad hominem, and hyperbole. As the day progresses the ridiculousness of the bids increases. First bidders generally offer no more than reflection accompanied by the appropriate hashtag, while end of day customers will present everything from national generalizations, apocalyptic societal predictions, and, if they’re members of the blue check brigade, entire columns.
Whether it’s an Instagram model captioning her bicycle spokes with a tragic hashtag or a columnist proclaiming society’s destruction at the behest of their political other, it’s long past time to stop using the dead as online promotional tools. It’s shameless, classless, and it degenerates the value of human life to nothing more than our usefulness on social media. The dead aren’t ours to ride like bobsleds into relevancy. Their memory deserves more than cowardly uncorroborated memoirs by unqualified scribes, and their families deserve better than to log online and see their loved one’s name hitched to SoundCloud links.
I’m not going to link my tip jar to this one, instead I’m going to tell you if you read it to not do anything but go hug a loved one or tell me or someone else a story about a family member/friend who’s no longer with you. Tell me, I’ve got some about my mom I’d love to share.