Roger Ebert conjures a social media maelstrom

The story of how Twitter and Facebook erupted at Ebert over comments on "Jackass" star's death

Technology trends and news by Ronny Kerr
June 21, 2011
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Movie critic Roger Ebert is the latest public figure to be battling a social media maelstrom, and he’s doing just the right thing: keeping a level head.

On Monday, Ebert posted the above message right after tweeting a link to news that Jackass star Ryan Dunn had died in a late-night car accident. Dunn, who was a fast driver according to his mother, had been leaving from a bar. Though a toxicology report isn’t due for a couple weeks, Dunn’s Tumblr account had posted a photo of him drinking with two friends just two hours before the accident. The image has since been removed.

In spite of Ebert’s well-meaning message, however, Dunn’s mourners aren’t taking too kindly to it. Fellow Jackass actor and friend Bam Magera called Ebert out late Monday night for his insensitivity:

Many others must have been on Magera’s side since, on early Tuesday morning, Ebert was surprised to see that his Facebook fan page, containing a cross-post of the message at top, had been suspended for being “hateful, threatening, or obscene.”

Naturally, Ebert took to Twitter to criticize Facebook, which eventually restored the fan page.

This goes beyond Ebert, though, if Facebook will suspend accounts just because some users don’t like the message being expressed. We’ve reached out to the company to learn whether it was an automatic process, and to see how they will handle cases like these in the future.

In a blog post published Tuesday morning, Ebert offered his sympathy to Dunn’s family and friends, but he also stood by his previous remarks:

“To begin with, I offer my sympathy to Ryan Dunn's family and friends, and to those of Zachary Hartwell, who also died in the crash. I mean that sincerely. It is tragic to lose a loved one. I also regret that my tweet about the event was considered cruel. It was not intended as cruel. It was intended as true.”

Perhaps, when dealing with a person’s death, it’s best to only offer sympathy at first, and pass harsher judgments later, if at all. But then again, Ebert’s is a clear and widely acceptable message: don’t drink and drive.