Why building collapses don't trend online

Want to live your worst life? Spend it entirely online.

I was unsure how to title this post. I really wanted to headline it “Your worst life now: One step to wasting your potential,” in an upside down hat tip to Joel Osteen’s bestselling feel-good Gospel book. After about a minute of intense internal struggle, I settled on the tame version you see above. The other one just seemed to click-baity to me, but I did use a version of it in the subheading.

The thing is, it’s completely true, and it explains everything in regards to the top story over the past five days. A condo building in Miami collapsed, taking about half the structure down into a pile of rubble reminiscent of what we saw after 9/11 or the Oklahoma City bombing.

The story is literally leading the AP newswire, and on the front page of every major newspaper this morning. As well it should be. Besides President Biden’s bombing raids against Iraqi insurgent camps, the building collapse, with over 150 people still missing, and dimming, though not dead, hopes of finding some of them alive, is compelling news, and the cause of the collapse should be a serious topic for discussion.

But on Twitter, the building collapse isn’t even trending. I’ll tell you what’s trending:

  • #venmo (a promoted hashtag)

  • #Loona - a K-pop band I’ve never heard of

  • Toyota: Axios reported that the company donated $55,000 to Republicans who signed on to objections to certifying the 2020 election results.

  • James Earl Jones: is he the most recognizable voice in music and movies?

  • Samaria Rice: Shaun King keep raising money on Tamaria Rice and it’s some kind of minor controversy.

  • Syria: President Biden’s airstrikes (#12 on the list)

If you lived life online, you’d be very concerned about Shaun King, selling your Prius, and giving James Earl Jones some kind of honorific for saying “this is CNN,” voice-acting in Star Wars movies, with the last uncredited line spoken in 2005, and voicing a lion in 1994 (and again in 2019). You wouldn’t even know about building collapse, which is literally the top story in America.

Living online would be your worst life now, wasting every bit of your potential. Yet, many of our political leaders spend countless hours trying to gain Twitter followers, and letting the Very Online crowd determine their actual policy, to please these people.

Watch the dog-pile happen on Toyota now, as the company defends political contributions they likely make to many candidates. I’m sorry, but that’s not really news.

What’s really news isn’t even registering a water-drop wave on Twitter. Why is that? Honestly, I didn’t spend the weekend on Twitter, so I hadn’t thought about it until Ben Sixsmith wrote about it in his Monday missive. He pointed me to a June 26 tweet by Matt Yglesias, who I find myself agreeing more and more with on a variety of issues:

That was Saturday, and nothing has changed. The story is still fresh and ongoing, and online it’s not registering at all. Sixsmith offers what I believe is the correct answer why:

Why? Because there is no reason to argue about it. Feminism? Black Lives Matter? Cancel culture? Here we have extremely different and emotionally charged perspectives. Building regulations? Not so much. Of course, all of those issues are important. But it is also important to remember the issues that are less inflammatory - at least if we do not want our buildings to collapse.

A building collapse, though terrible, and leading to more terrible conclusions about the state of building inspections, sinking ground in Miami, poor engineering, construction cost-cutting, and general Soviet-style methodologies, is not something that generates arguments in the Very Online crowd.

There’s nothing to get riled up about, no way to cast blame on right-wing conspiracists, no companies to boycott, and no “thoughts and prayers” to condemn in favor of suggesting the military use nuclear weapons to disarm the populace. Therefore, Twitter is silent.

Don’t get me completely wrong here. There are times when Twitter rises (barely) to do good things, like during a hurricane or a flood, when people need to get news about specific locations, or general calls for help bring people to provide boats and other needed items. But an airliner crash (absent some mysterious circumstance) or a building collapse due to poor engineering and construction is not worth people’s online energy to argue about.

On the other hand, Toyota giving $55,000—a drop in the bucket—spread among 37 Republican legislators (math: $1486.49 each), is Big News, because the Very Online crowd (read: extreme liberals) who want to keep January 6th in the news, think it is of supreme importance, will rise through the hashtag forest to the top.

This is, as the hate object of a thousand searing, exploding Very Online suns, would say, sad.

But the Orange Man can’t say it on Twitter, because he’s permanently banned; only his ghost lives rent free in the lives and minds of those left behind while he himself enjoys a rapture to the racist haven called Gab.

To sum up. Live people may be horrifyingly trapped beneath thousands of tons of concrete rubble—a nightmare. Others are frantically digging through it, in fading hope of finding them before they die. We should be reading about it, praying for the survivors, for the workers, and for the families. We should be comforting each other and encouraging an eventual investigation of “how did this happen?”

The Very Online crowd may find themselves short in this area, because the real human experience is missing in social media. It’s a hive of conspiracy, argument, one-line put-downs, fit for sewer dwellers and time-wasters. If you can’t argue about it, you won’t find it online. I can’t think of a less productive way to spend a life.


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