Jacintha Saldanha death and Twitter's huge leap of logic

This column relates to suicide —please, if you need someone to talk to, consider contacting the Samaritans, Befrienders Worldwide or a similar group.

Twice this past week, Twitter went into meltdown.

It's the term I prefer to use when a topic suddenly turns the entire twitterverse in a completely new direction, as if a leaf caught in an updraft.

News of the royal pregnancy was the first meltdown, when absolutely everyone had to comment, including those who objected to everyone else commenting.

And the second, was days later with news of the apparent suicide of a nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, at the hospital where the pregnant Kate was being treated.

The two events are linked by circumstances, loosely, but more so by the public reaction.

A nurse who happened to answer the phone during a prank call from an Australian radio station at the hospital is now dead. By virtue of being at the same hospital as the Duchess of Cambridge, she's been called "Kate's nurse". Because she put the radio DJ's call through to the ward, and because she is now dead, both the DJs are blamed for her death. Now the DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian are reported to be in counselling, after being taken off the air. It also appears like the DJs have broken their silence to the Sydney Morning Herald, earlier today.

Britain's Prince William stand next to his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge as she leaves the King Edward VII hospital in central London. AP

These are huge leaps of media/Twitter logic as we fall over ourselves to know anything and everything about someone who never wanted to be in the public spotlight. In fact, she wasn't — nobody knew her identity until she was named by police after her death. The hospital didn't fire her for putting through the call and nobody would ever have known who she was perhaps were it not for her passing.

The world's obsession with a baby that isn't born has tainted everything to do with a story where suicides are generally ignored except when the media decides to break its own rules.

Top lines in British papers told of how the royal couple were "shocked" at the death. Yeah, maybe her family were too, but they matter less than royals right? They printed every detail possible about Jacintha Saldanha, including a picture of the outside of the family home, which I fail to see as a relevant piece of reporting.

But let's put the journalism to the side. It's the Twitter and social media reaction that's scary. Because the nurse and mum of two was one of the two "victims" of the prank call, the bile thrown at the radio DJs was aggressive and some even implied they should kill themselves.

And eventually some of the language turned against the nurse herself. One message I read said, "She must've been a bit daft to believe the hoax in the first place, and to commit suicide she obv wasn't all there".

In fact, that's been one of the most overriding problems of this NEED to comment. How can any of us presume to know someone's mind or emotions? The very fact that the entire world knew where Kate was puts enough public pressure on its staff already, without the then added effect of a prank call for radio ratings. But that doesn't mean we can know why a nurse or indeed anyone else might take their own life.

There's very little difference between what the Australian radio DJs did and what everyone else did on social media —everyone want a piece of the baby reaction action. Some had radio stations, some had newspapers and some had Twitter and Facebook.

Eventually as Friday dragged on, all there was to do was watch the Twitter reaction as the news spread globally and most of Britain reacted with collective revulsion. And everyone wanted the DJs to react or anyone to hit back or acknowledge them, as if their tweets and presumptions about a complete stranger mattered. Are we so desperate for individual fame and recognition so as to absolve us of those obsessions with the private lives of royals and deaths of private individuals? The death of a nurse is sad, as with any death. But the reaction is the car crash we can't look away from as we slow down and drive by. And THAT is the psychology we should be assessing and wondering who could carry on through it and what pressure it puts on those out there who simply need someone to listen, not to tweet.

The DJs should probably be fired and the station lose its licence, particularly since it was already on probation. But the DJs aren't responsible for someone's death, however irresponsible and immature the prank was. It was an invasion of privacy to attempt and air it, sure, but nobody could predict a death would occur days later, whether it was connected or not — and we'll probably never know, nor is it really our business. So to say the DJs have "blood on their hands" is as irresponsible as saying the nurse "committed suicide", implying it's a crime, which it's not.

When the twitterverse goes into meltdown, we all react with a chain reaction any nuclear plant would be proud of. I hope, in time, the world will learn to splash cold water on itself when these stories break and cool down, before we all get dragged into the mud of our own making.

Updated Date: Dec 11, 2012 16:33 PM

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