I was informed of my father’s death from a WhatsApp group.
I wake up in the morning and ask Siri, “What’s the weather today?” She replies, “Today will be partly cloudy with a high of 60 degrees.”
My day starts off just like every other day and nothing seems unusual.
At work, I usually keep my phone on silent so that I can get things done. At approximately 11:30 a.m., I see the other people in the office gathering around and talking quietly. Nothing unusual. At 11:45 a.m., I give a slight glance at my phone and I see that I have 68 unread messages from 9 different WhatsApp groups. That was my first sign that something usual is happening today.
I put my thumb at the key lock and go directly to WhatsApp. At that very second, my heart skipped a beat. My fingers froze. My eyes were rolling. I saw stars. All messages read: “BDE. At least three people dead in an apparent boat accident in Florida.” Every group that I am a member of had at least 10-15 messages with pictures and voice notes of how many people died, how and where, with full details.
As a family member, I did not know of a thing that had happened. All of a sudden, from reading a WhatsApp message, I was left without a father! A point-blank yasom!
I try calling my mother and of course there was no answer. I race out of the office and call my brother. There is an answer – the answer I never dreamed of hearing!
With a foggy mind and my blood ice cold, I rushed home and funeral arrangements were underway.
But I do want to take a few minutes to discuss the recklessness of WhatsApp groups. I feel that now might be the time for people to reconsider broadcasting and distributing news on WhatsApp.
The first messages started circling on WhatsApp at approximately 11:00 a.m. The messages read: “There was a fatal boat accident in Miami and three people are dead: Rosenberg, Parnes and Englander.”
Without hesitation, someone decided to write a message killing 3 people right then and there. And thousands of shares were followed within seconds.
At 11:00 o’clock, not one of them were confirmed dead! So instead of sharing messages to daven or say Tehilim for the critically injured, someone decided that he will get more shares on social media or will be looked at as a hero on WhatsApp because he was first with the news. So wrong on so many levels!
At the very first second I read the WhatsApp messages, I was hoping that those three were killed just like the two bochurim were killed in Kerestir last week. But thankfully those reports turned out to be false.
Sadly, the Miami story is true.
Right now, I have no voice. No mind. I am typing this message with tears.
This was without a doubt the hardest and worst day of my life. And the WhatsApp messages made it a lot worse and harder!
All I’m trying to say here is, when a tragedy strikes, don’t try to be a hero with sharing the news as fast as you can. Be a hero with knowing as many accurate details as you can. And never assume or make something up, because there’s always a family or families at stake.
I will never forget the first WhatsApp messages I read when I opened my phone. Make sure to never be the person who writes that message.
From this point on in life, I will never be caught by surprise again. Nothing can surprise me anymore.