Have you ever sat down to check your Facebook only to see a post about someone else’s life falling apart and wonder what on earth happened? How about scrolling through reels on Instagram or TikTok and watching in real time as someone lays out the story of how their career ended due to one errant comment on social media? We live in an age where we don’t have to look to TV, movies, or our own dysfunctional families to get our fix of drama. On any given day, our news feeds are filled with the real-life drama of friends and acquaintances.
Sometimes the world feels like a very dark place. The news is full of the drama of national and international events. TV shows frequently up the ante on how much drama we can enjoy in an episode. Then there’s social media.
Social media sometimes feels like a whole different animal. In the course of a 20-minute scroll through my feed, I can go from someone “vaguebooking” about some indiscretion to a friend’s daughter’s 10-month pictures to an all-out attack on someone’s character to news of an impending divorce. I don’t have to look for long to be treated to a gourmet buffet of drama in all the flavors I could ever want.
I admit I occasionally enjoy scrolling through and seeing what acquaintances and friends have shared. Sometimes the drama draws out that nosey part of me that wants to immediately go down a rabbit hole of trying to root out exactly what that vague post meant. Other times, I find it all too much when I just want to relax.
It seems that so much of our personal lives and business is being broadcast to the world. It makes the social landscape feel tricky at times when you get together with friends and see that one of them recently had a very public divorce or run into someone at the store who just shared about a traumatic death in the family. Not everyone puts their personal business out on social media, but enough people do that it can feel like a land mine field in terms of how to interact with those around us.
It’s one thing to have a conversation with a good friend dealing with some trauma in her life. It’s another entirely to socialize with an acquaintance or friend whose trauma was broadcast live on social media—whether on purpose or maliciously—and you’ve had a front-seat ticket to the play-by-play. How are you supposed to respond to or even bring up things that would normally be “none of your business” when they’ve been shared so broadly?
The sharing of “thoughts and prayers” comes across as trite. Ignoring it can also be a misstep depending on the person and circumstances.
I don’t really have a good answer to this. I’ve watched so many more things happen in real time over the last decade as a result of social media. Divorces are much more public. Deaths in the family get shared sometimes before the entire family even knows. Career faux pas blow up in our very news feeds. We have drama at our fingertips that we can sift through, but do we have the empathy required for a compassionate response?
I know my first reaction in some cases is to jump to gossip about an unveiled situation. I’m trying to tame that response because it’s an ugly one. I think the better response is to offer empathy and compassion, whether that means I’m close enough to the person to share a good conversation or to make a heartfelt comment on a post about some horrible situation.
I try very hard to offer a more tactful response to someone who’s had their dirty laundry aired on social media. My approach is generally to follow the other person’s lead, listen more than I talk, and only engage the topic if it comes up and feels like they want to discuss it. I think that’s really the best any of us can do in an environment where we see so much bad news on social media.