By Alexis J

Sunday evening, I was watching Duke lose to Michigan State in the elite eight round of the NCAA tournament. I was also actively scrolling on Twitter, participating in the game’s commentary on my timeline. That’s when the rumors began to swirl online that LA rapper Nipsey Hussle had been shot.

When tragic news like this breaks on the internet, my first thoughts, just like a lot of people on my TL, is to confirm it. I look for articles, tweets, and credible sources to confirm — or hopefully discredit — the rumors, especially when it comes to celebrities and deaths, as we’ve seen the internet falsely kill celebrities in the past.

The first detail to come out was that Nipsey was shot 6 times…and we were all hoping that it was a lie.

After the news was confirmed that he was gunned down in South Los Angeles in front of the Marathon Clothing store Sunday afternoon, more and more disturbing images began popping up online: Surveillance video of the shooting, videos of Nipsey on the ground from different camera angles, his longtime love Lauren London rushing into the hospital in a panic.

All these images were circulated online within 2 days. And as disturbed as I was, I could not look away. 

Not to mention the outpouring of support, sad statements, and grief-filled posts from fans and celebrities alike.

The consistent sentiment was that THIS particular death felt different. Nipsey’s death made people feel sadness even if they weren’t a fan of his music. I am 100 percent sure that some of that was due to who Nipsey was as a person: a philanthropic activist who worked to give back to his community and uplift those who came from his environment.

But I couldn’t help but question how much of this pain we all felt was triggered by what I deemed ‘social media grief.’

“When you’re constantly looking at the same trauma it becomes vicarious trauma,” said Sharise Nance, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Clinical Trauma Professional at Hand in Hand Counseling in Pittsburgh.

Ms. Nance, who has been in the profession of psychology for 20 years, said when news breaks that a public figure died or a tragic national event happens, it’s important to be self-aware of what you can and cannot handle when navigating social media.

“If we consume too much grief online, it often replays in our minds and we’re continuing to re-feed the grief. It’s like having a wound in the brain and re-injuring it. You have to give it time to process and heal,” she said.

So I asked her what were some ways we could deal with social media grief in a way that wasn’t triggering and without creating trauma for ourselves.

The first thing she assured me was that shying away from the information may not work and that it was OK to grieve.

“It’s important for us to be up on current events especially when news affects the black community, and it is also okay to be grieving.”

I assumed the answer was to simply not look. Don’t go on social media when tragic events happen. Log off. That should be easy, right?

Ms. Nance said that isn’t always the way to go about it.

“I wouldn’t advise someone to completely disconnect from social media. It can be a helpful tool. I would suggest taking a social media diet or social media detox.”

Ms. Nance suggested that if the information you consume online becomes too triggering, set a timer for yourself. After 20 minutes passes, for example, and you’ve gathered all the information you need, ask yourself are you becoming obsessed with the incident?

If you choose to delete your apps for a couple of days, be mindful of how you feel when you don’t have access to the traumatic information and learn how much you can handle, she said.

“When we are on social media, we can mindlessly scroll and not realize how much time has passed. Be intentional when checking your apps. Get the information you were looking for and when it comes to anything beyond that, ask yourself do you need to see these comments people are making or these photos being posted?”

Another aspect I noticed of social media grief is being exposed to how so many people in the world handle the grieving process. A fan criticized 50 Cent on Instagram for posting about a car show before posting about Nipsey’s death— to which 50 replied that he would say something when he was ready (in a very 50 Cent kinda way).

It seems as though when someone dies, social media puts pressure on you to say something. As if the rule is “if you don’t post your sadness, then you don’t really feel it.”

“We can’t put rules around grief,” Ms. Nance said. “In today’s world, we have more access to people so people are keeping score- ‘Are you posting your grief? Are you protesting? Are you speaking out?’ If someone has trauma, their role is to take care of themselves first. Everyone is in different stages of grief at different times.”

I saw a lot of older hip-hop heads comparing Nipsey’s death to Tupac’s, for reasons beyond the obvious West Coast affiliations. Both men preached a message, spoke with a purpose, and made music that moved people to action.

Ms. Nance was about 16 when Tupac died, and she said she found out listening to WAMO radio station on her way to school. She and her friends discussed it when they got to class, but they didn’t have the same immediate access to information as we do today. So they just kind of moved on from it.

It doesn’t feel like we’ll be able to move on from Nipsey’s passing quite the same.

So I hope we all learn to take care of ourselves, on and offline. Grieve how you want for as long as you want. Step away from your phone if you need to. Be intentional with your screen time. Ms. Nance says you can’t control what images are posted online by others, but you can control your response to it.

“If there is a person sharing images that are triggering or things you don’t want to see, you can mute it or simply unfollow them.”

***My opinions are my own and do not reflect those of the company I am employed by.
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