On Paul Walker and why Twitter still can’t handle celebrity deaths

The problem with the ‘tweet first, think second’ mentality

by Barry Hertz

Paul Walker in Fast and Furious 6 (Universal Studios)

The death of Fast and Furious actor Paul Walker is many things to many people: untimely, horrific, ironic, heartbreaking and—for one movie studio—potentially devastating, in an economical sense. But before anyone had a chance to truly parse their thoughts on the 40-year-old actor’s fatal car crash, the Internet—or, more specifically, Twitter—revealed that it still has no idea how to handle the passing of a celebrity.

Late Saturday night, news spread that Walker was a passenger in a one-car crash in Valencia, Calif., alongside driver Roger Rodas, an investor and friend of the actor’s. While officials are still investigating the accident, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department says that Rodas somehow lost control of his 2005 Porsche Carrera GT, slamming into a light pole before bursting into flames. Both men died in the crash, though Walker’s passing—in a speed-related incident, no less—was what pushed the news across news outlets, and countless Twitter accounts.

The subsequent online mourning cycle was almost cliched in its predictability. First, there was shock. Then condolences. Then the grotesque jokes (see third comment in for a truly awful example). And, finally, anger. Not anger at the loss of life itself, mind you, but anger over the fact that people are, well, paying too much attention to one man’s death. By Sunday afternoon, when reports started rolling in that Universal executives were already mulling their next move in Walker’s still-shooting Fast and Furious 7, it all became too much to digest, especially if you are, as I am, a fan of the actor and his ridiculously entertaining action franchise.

Yet what all the online turmoil revealed—in both its unadulterated sincerity and its quick crassness—is that Twitter can be a embarrassingly juvenile form of expression, one that has yet to fully process what it means to mourn. It’s almost as if Twitter is the Internet’s equivalent of a teenage brain. Like an amygdala that’s still in development, Twitter is teeming with irrational and impulsive behaviour, untempered by reason or caution. Users tweet out too-soon jokes without giving them much of any thought, and before long inconsequential Twitter wars cast their shadow over a very real loss.

This isn’t to say that Twitter can’t add to the conversation, and that it can’t be a meaningful tool to mourn. It’s just that users typically tweet first, and think second. When the subject is a political gaffe (say, a perpetually bumbling mayor) or a remarkable episode of television (say, Sunday night’s episode of The Walking Dead), then a rushed response is reasonable, even welcome. When the subject is a real-life tragedy—and a tragedy that doesn’t actually impact 99.9% of those tweeting about it, save Walker’s co-stars and family members—then it gets more complicated, and more unseemly.

There may be no one true way for fans to mourn Walker, but for those who really want to pay their respects, it’s likely best to watch one of his many great films rather than do anything involving a hashtag.




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On Paul Walker and why Twitter still can’t handle celebrity deaths

  1. Personification of Twitter doesn’t change the fact that it is the users who are actually juvenile, not the service. The majority of Twitter users are immature and uneducated in appropriate response to tragedy, you meant.

    • This writer doesn’t know the difference between then and than, understanding the difference between twitter and it’s users is an unsurmountable task.

      • “This writer doesn’t know the difference between then and than,
        understanding the difference between twitter and it’s users is an
        unsurmountable task.”

        The author didn’t use then or than. Also, you don’t know the difference between it’s and its.

        EDIT: Turns out the author did use “then” incorrectly at the end. My mistake.

        • Actually, the author uses “then” incorrectly in the very last sentence. I wonder if the use of “it’s” by Rymes was sarcasm. Or they could both be typos. I’ve noticed that when I post comments with my tablet, I have to read it careflly to make sure I haven’t mist anything…

          • That’s what I get for using Ctrl+F in Firefox. It didn’t search the article. As for Rymes’ mistake, it’s common.

            Oh, and I noticed what you did thurr.

          • On reading Mistah Hertz’ last line again I see that the whole grammatical structure is off. The simplest way to fix it would be to replace “then” with “rather than”. It must be hard to find good copy editors these days.

            This comment wouldn’t fit on Twitter, would it?

          • “… but for those who really want to pay their respects, it’s likely best to watch one of his many great films then do anything involving a hashtag.”

            vajrasattva1, you’re dead-on! If “then” was intentional, then the word “first” is needed before “to watch” and “and” is needed before “then do.” Still, the point of watching his movie and then tweeting doesn’t quite fit with the article’s theme, so all in all, your way is a cleaner fix. Kudos!

          • Thank you.

          • Since we’re on a grammar tangent, I would question the use of the word “best,” since he is comparing only two reactions.

          • That would be more gooder.

    • Tweets don’t dis people, people dis people.

  2. What would you expect if you gave twits a simple tools for rapidly and endlessly re-expressing mudane, sophomoric, idiotic or crude messages.

  3. It’s actually about the percentage of Twitter users who are willing to post about it. Yes many of THOSE people are crass and disrespectful, and at best ignorant. But the real issue in all of this is the social reward we regularly give to crassness and disrespect. Who doesn’t get a back-slap for “going there” or following up their jokes with “too soon?”? The irony in all this is that vulgar, reactionary statements are so popular, they’re much closer to being contemporary than antisocial. If everyone is crass and no one is remotely surprised at their statements, then is it really liberating/punk/anti-establishment?

  4. Why is the scrutiny limited to Twitter, and not expanded to Reddit, Facebook, Instagram and every other social media platform? This is purely the result of people being able to communicate instantly and openly on the web, and some of those people being dumb. Silly analysis.

  5. don’t hate on the hashtag,… I did that to show my love n respect.

  6. This is was death comes down to these days.. we express our feelings on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook w/a hashtag. But yes, since I am a true fan of Paul Walker, I will definitely rent/download/buy every single movie he was ever in.
    May he Rest In Peace

  7. Call me misanthropic, but I feel that social media in a general serves as a constant reminder of the shockingly basic level that most of the population is functioning at. Brace yourself, as I assume it will only worsen as the elite continue to tighten their grip and the already large disparities in income and education continue to increase.

    • It’s not that shocking. Most people are uneducated, had poor parenting as the family structure has been destroyed here in America, consume fluoride, use aluminum deodorant, consume mass quantities of Bromine and artificial sweeteners and are overweight and in a constant state of brain fog. it’s really not shocking.

  8. Different kinds of tragedies will always come and go, but for how much longer will there be old media pinheads around to exploit these tragedies as opportunities to cherrypick evidence in order to explicitly dis competition from newer methods of communication and dissemination of information? The writer of this piece is a member of a disappearing species and knows it. How can we Save Maclean’s Whales? Poor dears. There is only one hope for them it seems: spread the word on social media. #getoffMacleanslawn

  9. Jesus never miss his family,gud bye paul……………

  10. Say what you like about social media but it has done a better job at reporting what happened that I have yet to see from a traditional news organization. Within hours Reddit had painted the entire picture for me: Paul Walker and Roger Rodas own a garage together and are racing partners. They were doing a charity event raising money for the Philippines relief effort by showing off their cars and taking people for drives. On a road that is notorious for street racing and accidents they crashed into the tree and pole and the car caught fire burning them alive (if the crash didn’t already kill them). Last known pictures, video of the car burning, and Google street view maps showing the route all show that this was an avoidable incident and now two people who had the best of intentions are dead. The twitter reactions are simply human reactions being broadcast for anyone who wants to see it. The news are facts and social media is doing a better job at reporting it.

  11. well said. thank you.

  12. Ugg, maybe you should focus on the positive aspects of twitter… like all the people simply mourning and wishing family well through the tough times.

    People only ever focus on the negative aspect to social media. Sure you glossed over that it’s not all bad, but there wasn’t anything of value in that.

    You never hear about a celebrity’s fans being supportive, just all the hate and vile thrown at them. And typically that’s all they focus on as well, no different than any person taking one “You’re ugly” more seriously than “You’re beautiful”.

  13. Twitter is DUMB!

  14. R.I.P. PAUL WALKER

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