In the aftermath of the Newtown CT tragedy, there were all sorts of posts, tweets, blogs, op-ed pieces, articles, and soundbytes about everything from the cause, to who/what was to blame for Adam Lanza’s meltdown, to the government’s responsibility “in all this.”
Probably the most disturbing response I read was “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” A blog post written by Liza Long that detailed her struggles with her mentally ill son, it went viral. The content is poignant, disturbing, and real.
Ms. Long blogged under her own name and made only the feeblest attempt to disguise her son’s identity – she changed his name. She then used his real photo, and made no attempt to disguise any other details which would pinpoint her son as the subject of the blog.
What was she thinking?! If her son didn’t already feel ostracized, strange, and marginalized by his mental health issues, he will certainly feel all of those things… and more now.
Early in my blogging history, before I really understood the implications of writing for the Anonymous Whole (pun intended) and how whatever I wrote was “out there” forever, I posted an entry on my new blog that contained a case study. I believed I was careful with privacy and confidentiality, changing the client’s name, age, and gender. However, a much more experienced blogger (and fellow professional) contacted me right after the post went live.
“What are you doing?” she asked tartly. “What if your client reads your post? Do you think you’ve done enough to ensure that s/he isn’t going to recognize him/herself?”
“I think so,” I responded. “I was careful not to breach confidentiality.”
“You quote your client! If those are his/her actual words, you don’t think there’ll be some recognition there?” she asked.
Ah. Lightbulb moment. I hadn’t actually used the client’s exact words, but was close enough in relaying my point through dialogue that if my former client should happen on that particular post, s/he would have at least wondered if I were talking about his/her therapy process.
Oops. Post was removed, retooled, and reposted, with the approval beforehand of my much more experienced colleague. It was live for less than 12 hours. I sincerely hope that my former client didn’t see the original version.
Liza Long has done the same thing to her son. She is his mother and the ipso facto keeper of his shame, triumphs, joys, failures, successes, and to a great degree, the primary influence on his sense of self. No matter where he goes now and in the future, he is marked in ways he was not before the post went viral.
The struggles to parent her son are real, and Ms Long is as deserving of the support of the community, the resources available, and the validation so vital in situations like this. But she is NOT entitled to those things at the expense of the wellbeing of her son. Her breach of confidentiality is astonishing and the degree of betrayal her son may feel is unlikely to diminish with time – since his mother has connected the reality of his own mental illness with the perpetrator of one of the worst mass shootings in US history.
Another, excellent response can be found here, which inspired this blog post. I fear Liza Long’s ’15 minutes of fame’ may have long term negative consequences for her, her son, and their family – now forever connected with the Newtown CT tragedy.