gonna try to keep this up-to-date with what’s going on down here . . . this
is being reported as the worst school shooting in U.S. History . . . wow . . .
I honestly can’t believe I’m here while this is taking place . . . absolutely
Amid this confusion, other students created “groups” including
one called “I’m ok at VT” that encouraged students to join so others
might know they were safe. Within twenty-four hours more than 500
groups sprang up on Facebook, formed not only by witnesses but by
onlooking students around the world who wished to rally support for
the Virginia Tech community and keep updated as more information
Major national newspapers competed to reveal the victims’ identities
but were stymied by authorities who withheld the names. Surprisingly, it
was a VT undergraduate writing for the campus paper who got the scoop.
Twenty-year-old David Grant managed to identify the victims by their
Facebook walls, which stood out because they were already covered with
remembrances. His editor, twenty-one-year-old Amie Steele, insisted he
confirm the names before she would run the story. But here they recognized an ethical dilemma. “We didn’t want to call parents on a day when
they had already lost their children,” Ms. Steele later explained to the
Wall Street Journal. But again the problem was solved using Facebook.
The pair of young journalists sat down to contact the victims’ Facebook
friends, whose contact information was readily available.
Judging by their profile pages, the victims were unaffected by and
unaware of their own deaths. Their expressions were unchanged, and
their sensibilities—their likes and dislikes—survived intact. They recommended the same books, demonstrated the same taste in music and
spoke of the same hobbies. This corner of Facebook appeared to be
caught between life and death. Within a day of the shootings it became
clear that Facebook wasn’t designed for mortals.
“Until the Virginia Tech tragedy, we had a very simplistic policy in
place,” explained Facebook’s then director of corporate communications Brandee Barker in an interview with USA Today weeks after the
shooting. Prior to Virginia Tech, Facebook simply marked profiles for
deletion whenever notified of a user’s death. Because of inconsistencies in Facebook’s statements, it isn’t clear whether profiles were deleted
thirty days after a user’s death or thirty days after Facebook was notified.