Every Sept. 11, a delicate tension on the Internet predictably tips into tragedy. People want to share their feelings about the anniversary of 2001′s terrorist attacks, and at the same time they want to scold anyone who makes the day too much about themselves.
By the early afternoon of Sept. 11, 2013, the day had seen several notable 9/11 new-media blunders (there undoubtedly have been and will be more). AT&T tweeted a photo of a smartphone replacing the Twin Towers, then had to apologize.
We apologize to anyone who felt our post was in poor taste. The image was solely meant to pay respect to those affected by the 9/11 tragedy.
— AT&T (@ATT) September 11, 2013
Esquire accidentally placed a photo of a man falling to his death from one of the towers next to a headline about a morning commute, then … well, it didn’t apologize robustly, but it fixed the mistake. And Ari Fleischer tweeted that the United States Strategic Command on Sept. 11, 2001, was “was just like the movie ‘Wargames’.” How neat that must have been!
But there’s larger problem with online Sept. 11 tributes — even those that don’t reflect obvious lapses in judgment.
It’s that people and corporations commemorate the anniversary the same way they pass around cat photos or talk about “Woman Crush Wednesday.” When you do this, it’s really, really hard to avoid sounding trite. Some people can pull it off. Most cannot.
Your GIFs, your Twitpics, your stories about where you were 12 years ago — they’re nowhere near as bad as ads that use Twin Towers imagery, but they’re almost certainly banal, no matter how much they mean to you. And aiming a gusher of banality at such an anniversary isn’t, in fact, a fitting tribute to the people who died that day.
Today we honor our victims and heroes of 9/11. We will never forget. pic.twitter.com/paW69LL5Jt
— Applebee’s (@Applebees) September 11, 2013
So how about this: Next Sept. 11, let’s agree to unhook our very real feelings of sadness and loss from our social media accounts. If you’re a journalist, simply report the news of the day — and hope none of it includes hamfisted commemorations like this one:
— Charles Homans (@chashomans) September 11, 2013