Annie Modesitt lived in New Jersey on Sept. 11, 2001. To cope, a group of neighbors gathered in Modesitt's back yard to grieve and talk about the horror that had unfolded.
On Friday, when a gunman attacked a Connecticut elementary school, Modesitt, who now lives in St. Paul, found solace in a different place. "For me Twitter is the water cooler -- the back-yard fence -- that I need to keep in touch with the world," she said.
Turning to social media has become common when tragedies such as these unfold because people feel a need to connect, said Carol Bruess, a communication professor at the University of St. Thomas. "During difficult times it becomes even more important for people to reach out and feel connected to other humans around them," she said. "We just have a different set of tools than we did before."
Social media can also lead to an overload of opinions, but Bruess said people need to remember they have a choice when it comes to what they are going to share with their social networks. "We can choose to filter it and to take a break from it or shut it down," Bruess said.
Modesitt, agreed, saying that in those moments when she is feeling overwhelmed by the coverage and posts, she is never afraid to disconnect. "In that case it's good to step away," she said. "Read a bit, meditate, maybe knit -- which I am about to do."