Of course, trying to judge or control reactions to tragedy is, at best, a fool’s errand. In grief, some cry and some make jokes, and that is what it is to be human; social media simply exposes us to that inevitable fact. So to ask whether or not people are responding appropriately to a disastrous event is always going to involve a bit of guesswork, or even projection.
We can, however, at least pay attention to what has changed. Writer and digital technology critic Nicholas Carr recently wrote on the topic of how we judge importance on social media. Building on the idea of context collapse, Carr instead puts forward the idea of content collapse: what he defines as “the tendency of social media to blur traditional distinctions among once distinct types of information — distinctions of form, register, sense, and importance.”
In part, content collapse is a result of the aesthetics of social media: Everything looks the same and even has the same sort of tone. Perhaps this is why social media is so often home to hyperbolic language — everything is perfect, the best, the greatest of all time. You need superlatives to break through the sameness. This does perhaps alter how we experience the wide variety of life. Suddenly, everything is at the sped-up, high-pitch tone of Twitter.