Death Told by Facebook

ryan dunn.JPGI didn’t know who Ryan Dunn was until a few days before he died, when I happened to watch part of the NBC game show Minute to Win It when he was one of the contestants. And though I didn’t watch the red-haired, bushy-bearded 34-year-old for very long, there was still something about him that I liked. He seemed to have a gentle quality, he was concerned about providing for the charity he supported and he was obviously flustered by performing the tricks—all rather endearing qualities in my book. (He wasn’t all that charming on MTV reality shows such as Jacka– and Homewrecker, so it’s good to know he had a more pleasant side.)

When he died in a car accident in Pennsylvania on June 20, after driving drunk, I was shocked and little saddened. I wanted to know more about him, and it didn’t take me any time at all to find information overload regarding his life.

Within minutes after the news of his death, articles multiplied exponentially and Facebook tribute pages sprang up. The International Business Times reports, in fact, that the Facebook pages gained more than 100,000 followers by the end of that day alone. And on Google and major news sites, articles involving grisly details of his death shot up to become the most-read stories. A staff writer from the IB Times commented on the personal and business side of the situation:

But this is the twenty first century where celebrity lives, grows and dies by the minute—sometimes the messier the better when social media and Internet fame is concerned. Call it the Facebook and Google Effect, where impassioned news spreads and manifests faster than one can get drunk, get behind the wheel, crash and burn. … [and] thanks to the likes of Facebook and Google news, and the human nature that loves to pour over gossippy celebrity death, especially those involving raucous acts like drunk driving in a sports car at high speeds and crashing into a fiery, deadly mess, bad news travels especially fast, becoming important food for social media fodder. That's one reason Facebook, the privately held social media company, is about to pass Yahoo in advertising revenue, and it's a reason Google has become one of the most profitable and productive companies in the new economy. The viral spread happens fast when the news hits, as social media and Internet tools allow people to digest, distribute and contribute to information at what previously would have been warp-speed media levels.

I don’t know whether this high-speed “gossip” is helpful or not, honestly. Dunn, who was driving around 140 miles per hour with a blood alcohol content that was twice the legal limit, was clearly in the wrong. He also killed his passenger. But some fans, perhaps grieving and eager to spread their condolences, don’t seem to see this. Instead, some are touting him as a hero who lived passionately and died the same way.

One Facebook user wrote, “what ryhmes with dunn? Fun, and that how u died having fun. Rip mate.” Another said, “Live Hard, Die Young, and Leave a Good Looking Corpse.” Still another typed, “Drink Driving claims another…But at least he went out the way we knew him..Drunk..Out of Control..and Being a Jacka–, Much Love Dunn. R.I.P.”

When attitudes like that blaze across social networking, are enough readers recognizing the irresponsibility of Dunn’s actions? Or are they in danger of romanticizing an unnecessary death and excusing the way he was killed?

Whatever the case, the story’s a tragedy.

Who wrote this?

Meredith has had two careers: one as a writer/editor for both Focus on the Family and The Navigators, and one as an English teacher trekking far-flung corners of Europe, Africa and Asia. She now rejoins Focus, but with souvenirs—including new eyes with which to better view American culture.

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