Dilemma: Is live tweeting your father’s death right?

by PR Coach on February 26, 2014

Laurie Kilmartin Dad & Sis

Laurie Kilmartin Dad & Sis at hospice

It’s one of those linkbait stories that catches your eye and won’t go away. Like a train wreck, you can’t resist looking at it.

So, when Business Insider posted This Woman Is Live-Tweeting Her Father’s Death Right Now, I clicked to read their report, ready to be outraged:

“Diagnosed with lung cancer, Mr. Kilmartin was admitted to hospice on February 20th. Laurie, a comedian and finalist on Last Comic Standing, has been live-tweeting her experience watching her dad die before her eyes.

Kilmartin’s tweets hit all of the stages of grief. There’s sadness of course. And there’s love. And due to Kilmartin’s nature, there’s humor.”

How to respond?

Laurie Kilmartin live tweets her dying father on TwitterAs a social media and PR consultant, I’m not sure how to respond. At first I was shocked, then appalled, angry, followed in quick succession by WTH, sadness, sympathy, empathy and ending in laughter.

You can imagine the response on Twitter from outrage to overwhelming support and every color, tenor and emotion in between.

But Kilmartin’s tweets and Twitter feed are riveting, heart-wrenching, yet bittersweet at times:

Her personal story and Twitter microblogging resonate deeply with anyone who’s ever been a caregiver for parents and loved ones or held the hand of someone close in their remaining days.

What’s equally fascinating is the outpouring of stories, comments and opinions shared by readers in her Twitter feed. The depth of emotion from her audience echoes like a bell in a church steeple on a quiet Sunday morning.

Wondering about social proof? She’s now up to 14,700 followers.

Challenging social media morality questions

Time For Questions about social media moralityThe social media circus around her story also raises some challenging social media morality questions.

Every day, we wrestle with the content challenges of social media.

Sometimes it’s how to report a terrible crime knowing that some family members may not be spared more pain. Other times, it’s dealing with a backlash from insensitive use of social media such as bullying, phishing and inappropriate online behavior.

I guess we should never be surprised when new technologies force us to revisit mankind’s recurring moral dilemmas. Writers from Shakespeare and Mark Twain to Hemingway, JD Salinger and many others have shared their wisdom about the human condition regardless of the era and the technology.

Colorful social media questionsSo here are just five of my social media questions:

  1. How can you tell when it’s not appropriate to post something on social media?
  2. What is “too personal” to post?
  3. How do you respond to the trolls, haters and countless responses to your public outpouring and personal story?
  4. Will you be able to resume “normal” online  social media conversations in the future?
  5. Is there such a thing as a social media “morality” or is it undefined, fluid and intensely personal for every individual and era?

I don’t have the answers because it’s really Laurie Kilmartin’s right to decide for herself and to respond in the future.

But it’s important for us to reflect thoughtfully on social media moral dilemmas as they arise.

After asking these questions about what’s appropriate in social media, here’s where I arrive.

My thoughts are with you, your father and your family, and others who more quietly handle the pain of losing someone you love.

Laurie Kilmartin, I admire your courage.

If it’s not about the publicity.

What do you think? Is it ever appropriate to be so personal in your social media channels?  Could you do it? Will you follow her story or avoid it as just another twist in the reality TV of our lives as seen through social media?

I welcome your thoughts on this social media dilemma.

Author: Jeff Domansky

Visuals: Laurie Kilmartin on Twitter