Social Media marketer Trey Pennington took his own life recently.
This post is not about Trey Pennington. I didn’t know him, offline or online, or on any line for that matter. He apparently was well-liked and well-regarded in his social circles and his digital legacy and social media marketing presence is not my interest or concern. The candlelight vigils and Twitter and Facebook eulogies will soon dissipate. Pennington’s Twitter and Facebook accounts will remain online in perpetuity—a poignant reminder to only those close to him, while he will fade away from the collective memory once the internet traffic and blog tributes dwindle.
The fact that many are so eager to express banalities of maudlin sentiment such as: “if only you sent me a DM, Trey, maybe I could have helped you” or “but he had so many Twitter and Facebook friends and he just emailed me a week ago” , only reinforces this digital artifice.
No one knows anyone else. This is an immutable metaphysical and existential truth. We no longer live, as Thoreau once wrote, lives of quiet desperation. There is no quietude, no respite from the digitized clamour. Our personal lives are as much disparate, as they remain desperate.
Whether one is clinically depressed or suffering from any other form of mental illness, the decision to commit suicide in such a public display raises more questions and provides few answers into the internal struggles, motivations, and stressors that lead a man to shoot himself in a church parking lot when confronted by police. Whether one’s marriage ending results in feelings of isolation, abandonment, and loss of status in his local Church community is commonplace. Why it drives someone to end it all is counter-intuitive. as much as is finding simple answers to irreducible questions. No amount of pop psychology will suffice.
If there is a lesson to be taken away from this incident, it will, by and large, fall on deaf ears among the social media crowd. The only glimmer of hope may be from Jay Baer, a social media marketer, whose post, “Social Media, Pretend Friends, and the Lie of False Intimacy” may be stating the obvious, but still needs to be heard by the social media marketing industry:
The reality is, we don’t KNOW hardly anyone.
I interacted with Trey quite a bit online, and twice spent time with him in three dimensions. Trey was one of the kindest, most interesting, generous people I’ve ever met. He was truly one of the good guys in social media, and his background in theology and storytelling gave him a refreshingly different outlook on all of this. He will be missed, and if the outpouring from the social media community is any barometer, his impact on others was perhaps far greater than he knew.
I considered Trey Pennington a friend. I suspect many of his 100,000+ Twitter followers considered him a friend. Clearly, most of us were not his friends, as his death came as a complete surprise despite the fact that he had a prior suicide attempt earlier this summer, and had been discussing his problems with confidants.
But if you’d asked me yesterday morning, I would have said Trey was a friend. Social media forces upon us a feeling of intimacy and closeness that doesn’t actually exist.
Compare the foregoing with this series of tweets by a UK social media consultancy firm on its Twitter account @oursocialtimes:
Sure, mistakes happen, but the side-show must go on. As Brandon Mendelson at Forbes.com—taking Mashable to task on capitalizing on Pennington’s suicide to drive more readers to its website—wryly observes,
The Mashable headline tweet included Pennington’s Twitter handle. This was done clearly so that people who knew him would know about the post and come to the website, even though they didn’t know for sure that he was the one who died in the suicide. They found out through secondary sources, despite it not being confirmed until nearly three hours after their initial post.
If they were just doing standard reporting, or honest journalism like some have suggested, why use his Twitter handle in the headline beyond getting attention for the post that may later turn out to be false?
And let’s imagine for a second if it wasn’t Pennington who killed himself, but someone else. Most people who visit Mashable, according to Quantcast, are essentially drive by viewers. They don’t stick around, and there’s no promises they’ll come back the next day, or even come back to see if you’ve updated a post.
Had Pennington not died, and they ran their post, can you imagine the lawsuit over that one?
I said this in the initial post, and I’ll say it again: If the man was that well loved by the industry, no matter how fake that industry is, he deserved better.