Sharenting, grief and the twitterati of noise
Updated: Oct 15, 2020
Earlier this month the singer John Legend and his wife Chrissy Teigen lost their baby during pregnancy. If you don't meddle in social media you may have missed this sad story, but it wasn't the awful news that lit up the online message threads, so much as the image that the couple chose to share. An image that captures a very, very private moment of loss. Comments ranged from the callous to the furiously defensive.
" So there just so happened to be a photographer there?"
"Anyone criticizing her for posting this picture of her GRIEF can f*** off. This is a tragedy. She can post whatever she wants for the support that she needs and deserves!!!"
"I don't see why she felt she had to post that to the media as soon as it happened. That's a very private matter. Ppl are saying "she did it bc other women go through it", yeah they do and it's private".
The raw pain of their loss is carved on Teigen's face and we can only imagine what must have been going through her mind. But, what purpose does the image serve, in fact does it even have to have a purpose? At what point is this an event that should even be shared?
"People been giving negative comments on why she's posting this. As a person who is unable to have children, this is the reality. Not everyone gets rainbows and happy pregnancies. She is putting a spotlight on a "hidden, taboo" subject".
"Taboo? How so? How has anyone in modern western society been shamed for a miscarriage?"
On the one hand there is issue of what it is to be a modern celebrity. At worst some might see this as a clumsy lapse in judgement by a couple so addicted to sharing the accolades and minutiae of their world, that they edged across an invisible line of acceptability. The picture provokes such sadness that you can't help but go to a dark place. It's very triggering.
In 2015 the mainstream media decided to share an image that had a prompted a similar outcry, that of the body of three year old Alan Kurdi, found drowned on a Mediterranean beach after his family fled the conflict in Syria. The publication of that image was unlikely to have helped his grieving family but despite that, it was splashed across the front page of almost every British newspaper that September day. It was brutal, raw, and could never be forgotten. When the media storm had subsided, a study was conducted into it's impact, the findings of which demonstrate that this kind of image, which provokes strong emotions, can be be huge drivers to 'further engagement'. And if that sounds cruel, in the case of Alan's picture, there were arguably some good things that resulted from the media sharing it as the study revealed.
"The number of average daily amount of donations to the Swedish Red Cross campaign for Syrian refugees, for instance, was 55 times greater in the week after the photo (around $214,300) than the week before ($3,850). Still more promising, there was a 10-fold increase of the number of monthly donors signing up for repeated contributions, growing from 106 in August 2015 to 1,061 in September 2015, with only .02 percent of them opting out of the commitment by January 2016. From this, the study concluded, iconic photos may lead to some sustained commitment even beyond the immediate surge of donations".
Of course, the big problem with this case is that the family were not consulted, and their personal loss, their little boy, was used to sell newspapers. Whether the media owners thought to do good for others, or just to line their own pockets is at the very heart of this quandry. At it's most basic, it's a hard space to make sense of, but perhaps more a question for us the consumers, than the posters. Because don't we have a responsibility to the media and informaton we consume every day?
Maybe it's time to stop fixating on those people who are living in glass houses and get on with our own lives?
We all know that real pain isn't pretty, it isn't aspirational and it shouldn't have filters. The one that Teigen posted is an image that only reinforces a truth, that behind the ice cream smiles and infinity pool selfies, these are just people, who are not immune to the worst that the world can throw at them. How awful then that some users are trolling them for the very image that shows them at their most vulnerable.
If miscarriage, and the 'shiny people' suddenly revealed to be only human, makes some social media users uncomfortable, then maybe they are more suited to an even more pre-moderated reality. Who gets to say what reality is acceptable to share and what isn't?
If we don't talk about the unthinkable, then doesn't it become something even more damaging, doesn't it become the unimaginable?
If you have been affected by still birth, SANDS provides bereavement support services both nationally through its Freephone helpline, mobile app, online community and resources, and locally through a UK-wide network of around 100 regional support groups.
To support refugees and migrants go to Refugee Action which work in the UK to provide basic support for people fleeing harsh regimes in order for them to live again with dignity.