Maggie Shiels

Tweeting outrage over boy's death

  • Maggie Shiels
  • 18 Dec 09, 08:51 GMT

Readers of "mommy blogger" Shellie Ross are used to her sharing information about her life through her blog and also through her Twitter stream.

No-one, however, expected a tweet she sent out on Monday that has sparked a storm of protest, criticism, headlines and sympathy. Here is why.

At 17:22 local time from her home in Florida, Ms Ross tweeted that:

"Fog is rolling in thick scared the birds back in the coop."

Eleven minutes later, her son called 911 to report that his two-year-old brother Bryson was floating unconscious in the pool.

The paramedics arrived at the house at 17:38.

At 18:12, Ms Ross tweeted again:

"Please pray like never before, my 2 yr old fell in the pool."

Screenshot of tweet

Tragically, five hours later her son Bryson was declared dead. At 23:08 Ms Ross returned to her Twitter account to update her 5,400-plus followers. "Remembering my million dollar baby." She also included a photo of Bryson in the post.

The case has now fuelled a debate about parenting and of course about how much someone should share about something so personal. There are equal amounts of shock, sympathy and anger about the affair.

And naturally enough, much of it is being conducted over the internet, especially through Twitter and a number of blogs.

Ms Ross tried defending her actions by answering her critics via Twitter but has since made her Twitter account private - no doubt given all the media attention the case has attracted.

One mommy blogger who has been vocal in her view of how Ms Ross conducted herself is Madison McGraw. She wrote on her blog:

"Maybe if she (Ms Ross) wasn't tweeting, her son might still be alive."

As well as critics, Ms Ross has had supporters speak out on her behalf.

Those who know her called her a devoted mum. One friend told Florida Today that "blogging is a community" and that asking Twitter followers to pray was not unlike asking a congregation to pray.

Rebecca Phillips of the spirituality website agreed.

"If you believe in the power of prayer and have an urgent situation like this mother did, you want as many people praying as possible. She probably felt very helpless."

Ms Ross has hit out at the opprobrium being heaped upon her by using her blog. She especially takes a swipe at the media.

"If it were not for you, I could mourn in peace. Let's try this why don't we, leave me alone, find your next victim and let my son's memory be one of good and peace and strength."

While Ms Ross and her family deal with a terrible loss, the question is being asked about how much one really should share with the rest of the online world.

Another issue is how much support one can get online when something this devastating happens.

Is this case an example of the power of social media or its misuse?


  • Comment number 1.

    What on earth are 'mommy bloggers' and why do they even exist?

  • Comment number 2.

    Oh come on, what is this, the Daily Mail? Am I now going to start seeing headlines like "SOCIAL NETWORKING CAUSES CHILD DEATH"?

    What people tweet is their own business. If something like that has happened, and you have friends who you talk to online, you will want to get support from them.

    Give the woman a break.

  • Comment number 3.

    To answer the question; this is an example of the power of social networking.

    I am often up late at night in Hawaii and as such have a great deal of on-line friends in the UK. Many is the time I have reached out for what I call 'the ineffable sweetness of touch' on Twitter. Just as I have been buoyed in spirit by these friends in ways they will never know, I am sure the woman in question was comforted and supported in her pain by her friends.

    Your article is one of hundreds trying to profit while minimizing these relationships by asking "Is this abuse of social networking?"

    Give me a break.

    Better yet, give that poor, bereft woman a break. Leave her to grieve in peace. I was on Twitter when I read her plea to pray (via two re-tweets) and was moved and heartbroken for her obvious pain. Of course she would reach out to her friends. That is what friends are for. We used to lean across fences to talk to our neighbors. Now we lean across continents and oceans. It does not change the basic human need for contact and compassion. I'm reasonably sure Ms. Shiels knew this, but under the gun to write such tripe (cleverly disguised by the rhetorical question at the conclusion) and sell some advertising space on-line, she jumped into the gauntlet and struck her blow to the shoulders of a woman already staggering under an unbearable load.

    Is this an example of the power of the media or its misuse?

  • Comment number 4.

    Sending out prayer request by Twitter - I don't think it's a crime, or outrageous - if you didn't know if your son/daughter was going to make it back from conscious & you had over 5000 followers on twitter - the more people sending some up the better...surely? It's like making a phone call simultaneously to 5k people!

  • Comment number 5.

    I feel sorry for this woman, what a terrible position to be in. A child lost and people suddenly criticising you. But in all honesty, what did she expect? Twitter is a two-way communication system, if she wants to share to the entire world something so personal then that's her decision, but she can't then turn around and say "If it were not for you, I could mourn in peace" when she doesn't like the response she receives.

    If she had said nothing or at least waited a while rather than sending the messages in the heat of the moment then she most probably would be left alone right now and we wouldn't be talking about this.

  • Comment number 6.

    'I am often up late at night in Hawaii and as such have a great deal of on-line friends in the UK. Many is the time I have reached out for what I call 'the ineffable sweetness of touch' on Twitter.'

    Why not just pick up the phone and talk to a real friend, not an on-line one?

    Shellie Ross has suffered a personal tragedy.

    The tweetiness part of the story is sickly and sad but inevitable. Her first instinct when her son dies is to share the news with 5000 strangers? Everyone wants to be a celebrity these days.

  • Comment number 7.

    This story reminds me of the people who film their children tipping objects on top of themselves or falling off of things rather than putting the camera down to help them or prevent the accident in the first place.

    If only people could earn £250 from Tweeting about their drowning children it would be more socially acceptable and we'd all have a tea-time chuckle instead?

  • Comment number 8.

    #6 The tweetiness part of the story is sickly and sad but inevitable. Her first instinct when her son dies is to share the news with 5000 strangers? Everyone wants to be a celebrity these days.

    I'd agree with that. If you want genuine condolence and a shoulder to cry on, you find someone you know and get them to help you through the grief. If you're just looking for a sympathy vote and a bit of attention, you tweet it to thousands of people you clearly don't know and wait for the inevitable soulless "omg that so sad im so sorri 4 u" messages to come flooding in.

    Anyway Maggie, that's two Twitter blogs in one day from the technology blog. I left a comment on Rory's one saying it's fine to have the odd one when it's relevant, so I hope this isn't a sign that we're going back to the bad old days of four Twitter blogs per week.

    I wouldn't really call this a technology story, but to answer your question, it's a case of misuse. Tweeting from Iran was an example of the power, this is just an example of the shallowness social networking brings to many, where the people sharing the news think they're interacting socially, and the recipients pretend to care about what they're reading.

  • Comment number 9.

    I've liked some of your recent posts Maggie, as they have been a bit different and on interesting topics. However, I really hope this isn't a sign that the whole obsession with Twitter is about to start again. I'm aware that Rory posted the other blog, but two technology blogs in a single day about twitter is absurd. I'd like to see more blogs on the new technologies coming out of silicon valley!

  • Comment number 10.

    The fact that she asked for prayers in and of itself is not what is outrageous. What IS outrageous is the fact that she "tweeted" 74 times that day, right up through the time her son was drowning. If she had not been so involved with "tweeting", and instead watching/interacting with her child, perhaps the little boy would still be alive.

  • Comment number 11.

    My sister-in-law told me a story recently. She was at the pediatrician's office and feeling badly because her son had gotten hurt. The pediatrician turned to her and told her he had blamed parents when their children had been seriously injured, thinking they had been negligent, and thinking this would never happen to a "good" parent. Then one day, he was giving his toddler a bath and realized the towel was in the hall linen closet. He left his happily playing toddler for a brief moment, took a few steps into the hall, grabbed a towel and stepped back into the bathroom. The toddler had slipped and was face down, unable to breathe in the shallow bath water. At that moment, he told my sister-in-law, he realized that accidents can happen more quickly than anyone could imagine and that tragedy can strike even the most diligent, careful parents.

    A parent could just as likely in the past to have been doing laundry, repairing something, or making dinner, as using a computer nowadays.

    How can something positive come out of this? For one, there are alarms that can be placed in pools, which will go off if anything enters the water. In addition, any pool owners should be certain that when an adult is not "on duty" a pool needs to have a high fence and gate securely locked at all times. This is a safeguard not only for your own children and pets, but neighbors and tempted strangers as well.

    Drownings happen far too often, even with professional lifeguards on duty. Let's all put into place, upgrade or check on safeguards, review rules with family members, and suggest the same to our friends and families for potential hazards in our own households. (For example, unsecured heavy furniture or appliances can fall and injure or kill children.)

    There is nothing that can be gained by further berating and attacking this parent. The guilt and pain that she already feels will last for her lifetime. Let's show human compassion and take steps in our own lives to have something positive come from what we can learn from their tragic situation.

  • Comment number 12.

    "If it were not for you, I could mourn in peace."

    I had to laugh with utter disbelief at that line. Shes encountered the same attention that others have, and realised that you when you let people into your lives you lose control over where your public and private life begins and ends.

    I have no sympathy for her from a public perspective, as she invited the attention on herself. However, from a private perspective I'm sorry that an innocent child lost his life.

  • Comment number 13.

    What is she playing at. Her paramedics were busy trying to help her son and she was busy posting on Twitter.

    Twitter certainly is not to blame. Of course you cannot watch kids all of the time but surely she should have completely changed her priorities if she though posting on Twitter was better than being beside her dying son.

  • Comment number 14.

    This woman is disgusting. No normal thinking person would act like this after losing a child.

  • Comment number 15.

    All the difference is in the timing. If a tweet was sent out too soon, at a time when she could have been doing something more productive, then she would be blame worthy, but if enough time had passed that the paramedics were on the scene and there wasn't anything else could do, then although it isn't something I could imagine myself doing, but I wouldn't fault her for it in the way everyone has cast scorn upon her.


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites