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Can you be sincere on Twitter?

How the combination of social media and celebrity culture has made it impossible to rest in peace

From a young age we are generally taught to ‘never speak ill of the dead’. However, public reaction to the recent passing of comedian Joan Rivers has left me questioning whether this is a worthwhile sentiment at all. Obviously Rivers did some good things in her life-time, but she also offended entire groups of people, and I wouldn’t blame them for not immediately rushing to tweet ‘RIP Joan’ in order to keep up with what seems to have become a social media norm.

I’m not suggesting that the time of an individual’s death is the right moment to let the world know you hated their hair style in 2008, or that you hope they don’t rest in peace because of that potentially ignorant comment they made on the issue of Palestine (I’m talking to you, Joan). But it also seems strange that every celebrity that passes suddenly becomes an inspiration or even an idol. If we think back to the passing of Margaret Thatcher, social media seemed utterly divided. Whilst some people tweeted about their celebratory street parties, others publically mourned her without any mention of the controversy surrounding her legacy.

The mainstream media has found a way to turn the passing of every notable figure into an opportunity to scrutinise the actions of other celebrities. News broadcasters read out lists of condolences and websites publish lists of tweets as people sit back and judge whether they’ve been sincere enough, or call out people who they believe should have commented; such as demanding Katie Hopkins grieve the passing of Peaches Geldof after previously arguing with her on GMTV. I’m sure no one really wants to agree with Hopkins, but did she really deserve a barrage of hate demanding that she comment on the death of Geldof, all for the sake of another vague tweet sending hollow condolences to the family of a person that she met a handful of times? Whether Hopkins’ criticisms of the mother of two were legitimate or not, do we really need to insist that she retract them just because Geldof has now passed?

I have no issue with a celebrity’s death being widely discussed when it becomes something that can be used to spread a positive message. The passing of Robin Williams for example, has brought much light and attention to the under-discussed topic of mental illness. However, even this was overshadowed by the ignorance of the Daily Mail comments section; ‘how can someone that rich be depressed?’ The amount of upsetting comments found on various social media sites led to Williams’s daughter Zelda deleting her Twitter account.

When death is a public spectacle you open the floodgates to unfiltered comments and those jumping on the bandwagon, at a time when the families of those involved most want privacy to come to terms with their loss. Commenting on someone’s passing just because it’s trending on Twitter is the opposite of sincere, in many ways I think it would be more respectful to let families grieve in peace.

Can you be sincere on twitter? Worked for the Yes campaign over the summer? Infuriated by the nude celeb saga and want your say? Tweet us your thoughts on Twitter: @ThePrintQM

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