Orlando Shooting, social media symbols

The news can always be worse, but this past weekend set yet another new low when it comes to the darkest pockets of the times in which we live.

Gun violence, hatred, intolerance, terrorism, religious fundamentalism, mental health. And then the political posturing, the absurdities spewing forth in order to make a point.

Conversations about all are being had right now, on TV and Twitter, in newspapers and on Facebook, among friends, family and around whatever serves as our office water cooler these days.

Friday night was punctured by the death of singer Christina Grimmie, the 22-year-old former contestant on The Voice shot to death after a performance in Orlando, Fla.

Christina Grimmie

Ethan Miller/Getty Images for iHeartMedia

Tragic and senseless, she was so young and talented, and stricken down in her prime by a lone 27-year-old man who was toting two handguns and a hunting knife.

Among the tributes from loved ones and those close to her, including her coach on The Voice, Adam Levine, condolences poured in for her via social media, most of them coming from people who'd only seen her on TV or heard her music, some from people who'd never heard of her but were reacting to the news of another young person gone too soon or another life lost to gun violence.

Then we went to bed Saturday night to news of a shooting with possible multiple casualties at a nightclub in Orlando—a bitter coincidence indeed, coming after Grimmie's death—and woke up to find out the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history had taken place.

Forty-nine people were killed, 50 including the shooter, a former security guard with a history of domestic abuse who had been investigated twice by the FBI for possible terrorist ties and ended up pledging loyalty to Islamic State before opening fire at Pulse, a gay club packed with revelers enjoying Latin Night.

So much damage wrought by one man, who at least in his own brain thought he had the support of a terrorist group behind him, whether he acted alone or not.

So much inexplicable horror.

And so many reactions on social media.

And that's why—for all the days we spend ruing social media, addictively poring over posts and liking/loving/laughing while secretly hating, leaving negative comments, blocking those whose opinions we disagree with—we are lucky that this bizarre world we're living in today also has Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and all the other sites we fruitlessly swear off but always return to.

Once again, as was the case after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November, and after a former student shot a UCLA professor to death earlier this month, Facebook and Twitter became locations for people in Orlando to check in and assure loved ones that they were safe. And social media is also coming through for us once again in the aftermath of tragedy.

Orlando Shooting, social media symbols

Putting the issues that will still be there tomorrow aside for a moment, these modes of communication have ensured that we have a diverse community of concerned individuals, an ongoing conversation, limitless space in which to express our feelings and reactions.

When one is rendered speechless, another will be able to speak in his place. When you don't want to write anything, there's always something to read. If someone takes the words right out of your mouth, then you know someone agrees with you. If you read something that outrages you…

Sure, that always stings.

But as always, in times of tragedy, times of joy and just…times… we have the freedom to insert angry faces, send a scathing reply, try desperately to inform or prove our own points or, better yet, ignore or block.

And whether you find social media frivolous or not, it has become an irreplaceable way to share kindnesses, words of support and meaningful images from around the world.

Perhaps more than ever before, we're seeing posts in the wake of the horror in Orlando—which occurred smack in the middle of LGBT Pride month—that indicate people are actually grateful for this comforting virtual presence.

There are a lot of voices, but a welcome harmony does usually manage to distinguish itself from the noise.

It can feel useless, whether in the wake of a single death or in the aftermath of a wretched weekend like this one, to read through a list of #RIPs, or compile a list of reactions. But it can also feel gratifying, and cathartic, and enlightening.

A common comment when we gather celebrities' responses to a tragedy is: "Who cares what these people think?"

But their responses are just as much worth counting as anyone else's. Being famous doesn't disqualify them from the human condition. Sure, the little checkmark next to their name might appear to be giving an unfair weight to their opinions, but that's just an algorithm, not the actual hierarchy of human thought. By highlighting their reactions, we're not saying they mean more. We're offering those posts as examples of emotions that others might identify with.

Orlando Shooting Vigil

Daniel Munoz/Getty Images

If you are currently processing feelings, then you are in the same reactionary boat as this singer, or that actress, or this athlete.

There's safety in numbers, and there can be emotional release, education and strength in numbers, too.

We may not always be changing the world one tweet at a time, no matter how many of us think that we are, or how pithy or poignant our last 140 characters may have been.

But we're all in this together. And thanks to social media, we know more than ever that we do have each other.

#OrlandoUnited, indeed.

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