This past week, two stories have been creating a huge buzz. The stories could hardly be more different. One involves a man from Ohio, one involves a woman from England. And yet, one thing ties these stories together – Social Media. And for me, one other thing ties these stories together. I am afraid that we are letting Social Media fill the spot where personal responsibility should be.

The Ted Williams Story

In case you’ve missed it, this video surfaced a short while ago, featuring a homeless man with a voice to die for. He had been standing off the highway in Columbus holding a sign saying that he would demonstrate his “God given gift” for a dollar at a time.

When I first watched the video, my heart went out to the guy. He noted that he had this great gift but had wasted it away thanks to drugs, drinking, and “other things.” He had obviously fallen on ridiculously hard times as a result, and he was pleading for just a chance to do some radio work. Something to fill his pockets. I was not the only one affected that way. The video went viral in the best kind of way, and just a couple of days later, Ted Williams has job offers and house offers falling on his head.

I have no idea what Ted Williams is really like. You probably don’t either. I’m sure there are plenty of people who hold signs whom you drive by every day. There are people in my hometown who do it as a hoax. And yet, this one particular guy, because of a reporter shooting a video, got a chance. He’s going to get a job.

Is this 100% good news?

Before we get to that, let’s move on to story 2.

The Simone Beck story

Simone Beck’s story ends in tragedy. She posted to Facebook on Christmas day that she had swallowed enough pills to kill herself. She bid a fond farewell. Her “friends,” of which she had 1,000, mocked her via the status update and generally didn’t take it too seriously. Sadly, Simone Beck was not lying, and she was found dead in her home a day later.

There is a huge outcry against these 1,000 friends. Why didn’t a single one of them call the police? Why didn’t any of them reach out to Ms. Beck to help her out?

Are you getting the full story?

Here’s where I’m scratching my head about both of these stories. You have a fellow who admits that he totally blew the opportunity of a lifetime. We don’t know all of the details. We don’t know how many people he hurt along the way. We don’t know if he has a criminal record (drugs make people do DUMB things, as does alcohol). But because we are so hungry to feel good about ourselves, we spread the word that this guy deserves a job, and because there was such a push, he’s going to get a second chance at his chance of a lifetime.

Do we know that he is the right person in which to invest all of our hopes and dreams?

In the case of Simone Beck, obviously one can’t argue with the fact that any time a person commits suicide, it’s a deep and unnerving horror of a tragedy. But…to lay the blame at the feet of her 1,000 Facebook “friends” does not seem reasonable to me either.

How many times during a day do you say things like, “Oh man, somebody shoot me!” How many times do you post tongue-in-cheek comments to your Facebook or Twitter pages? How many people do you know who have 1,000 friends and actually are FRIENDS with all of them?

I know nothing about Simone Beck, just like I know nothing about Ted Williams. Maybe she posted stuff like that to Facebook all the time. Maybe it was a cry for help, but because people didn’t KNOW her truly, they didn’t know what she was after. Heck, sometimes real friends don’t know what others are saying when talking online. Why do you think there’s always drama?

What is happening to the concept of personal responsibility?

I am certainly not one to dole out judgment, and that’s not my intent. But I am looking at these two stories and just thinking, “Hmm…Social Media is filling in gaping holes in stories for us, and people are latching on to the first things they see and hear. Is that good?”

It’s easy to watch a video like “the golden voice” and think, “Man, that poor guy.” It’s easy to read a story like Simone Beck’s and say, “Man, those awful people, not helping that poor lady.”

In the days before Social Media, Ted Williams probably would not have gotten a second chance at his chance of a lifetime. He would have had to continue to live with the fact that he blew it,  just like so many people have done in the past. Is this an improvement? I honestly don’t know.

And in the old days, perhaps Simone Beck, in her hour of need, would have looked for help via a telephone call to her mother, now distraught, or to a real friend. Perhaps she wouldn’t have confused Facebook “friends” with true friends of the heart.

Then again, maybe those 1,000 people do bear responsibility. Perhaps we should react as if it’s a worst case scenario every time someone makes a post like that. We should send the police just to be certain.

I don’t know though. Do you want to live life on that kind of heightened tight wire?

My mind is a muddle

So I’d love to hear your thoughts about the intersection of these two peoples’ stories with the world of Social Media. Are we headed in a good direction or a scary one?

Let’s talk about it.

Image by Ruth Livingstone.