this week’s column

Last week, two-year-old Bryson Ross drowned in the swimming pool in his family home in Florida. Bryson’s mother, Shelley Ross, has a twitter account with over 5,000 followers. In the days since her son’s death, the mother of four has found herself in the midst of a media and twitter storm. The reason? Shelley Ross tweeted about the tragedy.
At 17:32 local time from her Florida home, Ross’ elder son called 911 to report that his two-year-old brother was floating unconscious in the pool.
The paramedics arrived at the house at 17:38. At 18:12, Ross tweeted again, “Please pray like never before, my 2 yr old fell in the pool.” Tragically, five hours later, he was declared dead. At 23:08, Ross returned to Twitter to update her 5,400-plus readers. “Remembering my million dollar baby.”
Detractors have called Ross a callous, negligent parent with one blogger stating, “A child is dead because (of) his mother’s infatuation with Twitter”. Friends and well wishers have supported the mother of four as a loving, caring parent who was reaching out in her time of need.
There have been plenty of other storm in twitter cups, the most recent being the row over Penelope Trunk, a 42-year-old mother of two who runs a social networking site for managing careers, and has a blog with more than half a million visitors a month.
In September, Trunk tweeted the following: “I’m in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there’s a f***ed-up 3-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin.” Television, blogs and newspapers around the world reported Trunk’s tweet, forcing her to defend her decision. Trunk said that if she could tweet about her sex life, period, and even run-ins with the police why not about a miscarriage.
So how much should one share with the online world? Is there such a thing as ‘too personal’? Where does one draw the line? And should one? Critics say that Ross and Trunk’s decisions to tweet about such intensely personal topics trivialise the issues, but to me that seems an unfair judgement.
Fifty years ago, our support networks consisted of our families, friends and neighbours we grew up with. Today, few of us live in the same country, let alone the city that we were raised in. And so, we choose to share our romances, break ups, marriages, frustrations, politics and lives with an unseen, often unknown online audience whose presence we feel only on our stat counters.
And perhaps no online group is as tightly knit (and fiercely divided) as mothers. Mommy blogs may be derided and ridiculed as a group of women bemoaning their post partum waistlines and potty training dilemmas but it is much more than that. There are few experiences as isolating as motherhood, especially if you do not have the comfort of an extended family. It is to these other ‘dot moms’ and ‘dads’ that parents are turning to for advice, friendship and a cyber shoulder to cry on.
To me, it is not Ross’s decision to turn to her online family for solace that is shocking, but the backlash, the prejudice and the unkindness she has received in return. Terrible things can happen to the best parents. May be we should all try and remember that.


One thought on “this week’s column

  1. I am shocked that people think they can judge whether Ross was appropriate in her actions. A mother who just had a child drown must be positively out of her mind with sadness. Since when do we hold someone in this condition to any standards of social norms? There have been mothers who have absolutely lost their minds at their child’s funeral — gone nuts — and people completely accept this as a normal response to the worst tragedy a mother can experience. So why do we suddenly hold the mother of a recently deceased child to such high standards that she should be able to use social media in some proper way. People need to get over themselves with social media. The woman’s kid died. Leave her alone. Everyone should devote their energy to managing their own emotional life. It’s a tough thing to do — I don’t think anyone is so expert at managing themselves that they need to tell other people how to manage their emotions during human tragedy.


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