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Gorman: Netiquette for messages to people in grief

Internet posters should respect the feelings of people

Internet posters should respect the feelings of people grieving for a loved one. Credit: iStock

The death of Liam Armstrong, a senior at Smithtown High School East who was struck by a subway train Tuesday night in Manhattan while attempting to cross four tracks, is horrific.

Grief-stricken community members showed support for those closest to Armstrong by posting things like “always remembered” and “you’ll be missed” on social media websites.

The accident was tragic, that is no question, but is creating a Twitter hashtag — which provides an easy way to find posts, but also can attract outsiders with negative comments — too much for this sensitive time?

For those who knew Armstrong, or his family and friends, I think the answer is no.

Grief is a difficult subject. Knowing what to say, how to console or what’s appropriate does not come easy. Knowing just whom to console can be difficult as well.

Showing support on social media sites might be construed by some as halfhearted or inappropriate, but maybe it's time to change that impression.

In the digital era, an email can be equivalent to receiving a card in the mail, so a social media post can be viewed and felt the same way. Using the computer to send a message or share a thought is as thoughtful to some as a handwritten note.

What is not appropriate are the "bandwagoning" posts on Twitter like "Monitoring #staystrongsmithtown," which implies nothing more than interest in the story, or "hey #staystrongsmithtown thanks for all the hell you caused," which is rude and disrespectful.

Social media were created to give people alternative and immediate ways to express themselves. But some common courtesy should prevail. If you aren’t close enough to the deceased to attend the funeral, is it appropriate to post a condolence, well-wish or memory online?

Empathizing with family and friends to show support is a sincere reason to post. A post is not the same as giving a hug or drying a tear — far from it. Speaking from experience from the death of a relative, I think these short forms of support and empathy can go a long way. Relationships are evolving in a digital age and some things can be expressed from behind a computer screen.

But to aggregate a story or post rude comments just to get your name posted on the search page is dishonorable.

Showing support for those in pain is a natural reaction to disaster, but if you're going to post anything else, consider how you'd feel as a mother, sibling or friend in this scenario.

It's like your elementary schoolteacher said, "If you're not going to say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

Alexa Gorman, a senior studying journalism at Stony Brook University, is an intern for Newsday Opinion.