by Ellen Rossow
Thanks to Facebook, now everyone can stand in solidarity with France.
The French flag’s colors now tint many people’s profile pictures, showing just how deeply saddened they are by the 130 murdered and 350 injured in the recent Paris attacks. After the atrocities in Paris more than a week ago, we, as Americans, sat behind our screens and offered support through posts of #PrayForParis and #PeaceForParis and a one-click change to our profile pictures. One click.
Why is it that, in the face of tragedy, we feel the need to exhaust ourselves further with such extreme gestures of empathy?
It seems to me that this one-click change may be less about solidarity and more about self-indulgence. In a way, it’s a means of saying, “Look at me, I did my part,” in just one click. Clearly, the American people are going to feel sympathy regarding the lives lost. France has been our oldest ally and friend. They’ve offered us support and strength in the wake of our own hardships.
But is social media the greatest way for us to repay them? No. Is it the easiest and most immediately rewarding for us? Sure. I mean, look at all the likes you got.
Facebook’s profile picture overlay made the sympathy most Americans already felt a tangible thing we could show off, get likes for, encourage our friends to get, etc.
Maybe my beef is with social media as a whole. It saddens me many people find it the primary outlet through which to communicate thoughts and feelings with others because it’s often done distatefully. Many things posted or shared have undertones of, “Look at me,” or, “How many likes can I get for this?” instead of being sincere about the topic at hand. Many people share, reshare and share again based on the stuff their friends do or say — without thinking twice or sometimes even knowing what’s going on. This is where social media fails.
In light of recent circumstances worldwide, we need to change the way we use social media. We need to educate ourselves and spread knowledge — not make one-click profile changes and call it good. We should share (trustworthy) articles about the situations at hand, have open dialogues with people about the sympathy we feel and discuss the changes we want to see in our world.
Regarding the Paris attacks themselves, there are a plethora of charities, non-profit groups and social organizations one can support and donate to in an effort to help. Hashtags like #PorteOuverte, which served as a way for people to find shelter after the attacks, used social media to its greatest potential during the events.
There is a time and place for social media in the midst of crisis. An uninspired filter on a selfie is not enough.