By now, you may have heard of the tragic loss of Jenny-Lyn Watson, a 20-year junior at Mercyhurst College who was killed by her ex-boyfriend last month. She went home for Thanksgiving break and went missing Saturday, November 20th. A week later her body was found in a park near her home in Liverpool, NY.
The week-long search for her sparked extensive media coverage of her case. In social media, a Facebook group grew rapidly with messages from friends passing along current information about the case. The Facebook group now has over 26,000 members. A search for Jenny-Lyn Watson on Facebook turns up dozens of tribute pages, sadly, some restricted to no commenting.
Why no commenting? Well, there are trolls. There are people who write dumb shit in online forums. But I’m compassionate. I think people get angry and upset. Even if they didn’t personally know the family, maybe the situation hits close to home for them and it sparks a misplaced outburst. Is that ok? No. But I try to believe that people are good, just hurt, and not just trolls.
Even the pages that allow for commenting show that there’s trouble controlling the comments. Sometimes, they have to shut down the commenting capabilities because of disrespect.
My question to the community managers is this: What can we do to help? I’m serious. We are professionals with experience establishing and moderating online forums. Raise your hand if you are in charge managing one of these for your company:
- Twitter account
- Facebook page
- LinkedIn group
- Independently made Q&A site (Like this qHub one I run)
- Message board
- Blog comments
Did you raise your hand? This means you have experience dealing with online conversations. You have likely written community guidelines, flagged comments, done a little policing, done a little engaging in an online community that is essentially similar to a Facebook tribute page.
Maybe we could help set up the pages and manage it during the crisis period. We could write guidelines, flag comments, moderate the page, etc. Or, we could simply offer training or “on call” advice to those who wish to moderate the pages. Would it be tough work? Yes. It’s a tribute page. This is sad and awful and real and it sucks. But I had this re-occurring thought about the whole thing: I didn’t know Jenny-Lyn. However, someone that knew her very well is managing this page right now in the middle of grieving. I don’t know if the page is making his or her process any easier, and maybe a little help from someone like myself could.
In November 2008 my friend Lindsay died in a tragic accident. She was in critical condition for several days, and the fastest way to get information was through a Facebook group. It was updated much quicker than the traditional news outlets. When it came to finding news from traditional news outlets, I would see awful, hateful things written about the situation in the article comments. Much worse were the comments in community forums that popped up in a Google search. One person’s honest search for information turned into a twisted game of dodging digital landmines. Seeing how media and communication had changed during that experience is what got me involved in social media.
So, I can’t say I know how Jenny-Lyn’s friends feel when they see the comments. But I can relate somewhat. And I’m wondering what my next steps are.