Without a doubt, everyone should listen to what a grieving mother has to say. Even if you don’t normally listen to anyone besides your own conscience or inner voice, or care what anyone thinks, you should heed the words of Geraldton mother Marere Ihe Rangi Meri Potaka. Ms Potaka lost her cherished 17-year-old son Justyce in a car crash on Christmas Eve, six months ago. After hearing after the horrific house fire close to where she lives in Mt Tarcoola, which claimed the life of 13-year-old Nulla Mongoo and left two other boys fighting for life, Ms Potaka felt compelled to say something. First, words of comfort to the Mongoo family from someone who can relate to the intense grief they are experiencing. She doesn’t know Matthew or Melissa Mongoo, but she’s acutely aware of what they’re going through, even though their circumstances differ. Second, she has a message to everyone who thinks they have a right to speculate, lie and spread hurtful gossip about the tragedy online, only exacerbating the family’s pain. The dark side of social media is something Ms Potaka and her family experienced in the wake of Justyce’s death, and now she is witnessing the same thing happen to the Mongoos, with social media unrest and offensive posts leading to violence in the community. But she doesn’t want to sit idle and say nothing. In a poignant and powerful interview with the Geraldton Guardian this week, Ms Potaka called for an end to the “evil” and “toxic” social media commentary surrounding tragedies such as her son’s death and the June 1 fatal house fire. She said many parents were in denial or making excuses about what their children were posting on social media, and their inaction was in effect “creating monsters”. The last thing anyone with a shred of humanity, decency and respect would want is to add to the pain of a family already in complete agony. But we see it time and time again, with people flippantly casting aspersions, theories, conjecture and needlessly bringing race into their commentary. In time of grief and tragedy, if it’s not something you would say to a grieving mother or father to their face, why on earth would you post in online? It’s a trap many in our society have fallen into. Social media makes them feel far removed from any real-world repercussions and treat it like it’s their right of free speech to say any offensive, stupid thing that pops into their head. But what if it was them who was grieving a loved one? That’s the ultimate message Ms Potaka has to these people: “I hope you never have to experience the pain and heartache I have, and other parents have, when losing a child.” A little compassion goes a long way. No one is perfect. But the only words that should be thrown a grieving family’s way are ones of condolence and comfort. If a tragedy involves a crime or puts people in danger, then there’s an argument that certain information, which could upset families involved, is in the public interest. But if there’s one thing that Justyce and Nulla’s deaths, as well as the NSW post-wedding bus crash and countless other examples, should reinforce to everyone in our community, it’s that our lives can go from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in a split second. People should strive to be good citizens — offline and online. Don’t be a coward behind a screen and a keyboard.