France, Beirut and social media

A series of horrible terrorist attacks across Paris left over a hundred innocent people dead, Friday, November 13. Historically, after tragedies like this, people would absorb all the information through one-way mediums. They would watch politicians taking stances on television or read the latest updates on the newspaper; either way, it was always someone talking at them with little room for discourse. Now with the Internet, that one-way street has been demolished and replaced with a 16-lane highway where people can now give their opinions the minute it reaches them. This has created a new culture in the way we deal with indelible events like the one this past weekend, which was demonstrated by the new French flag filter on Facebook. But if there is anything that the Internet has taught us, it is that there will always be disharmony among us even in the harshest of times. Shortly after the waves of hashtags, tweets and changed profile pictures hit the web, the backlash against these actions ensued.

Probably one of the most repeated phrases over the weekend was “Pray for Paris.” Unfortunately, even a pretty innocent gesture like this was quick to receive criticism because detractors claimed prayers won’t help Paris and people should be investing in more tangible ways that could. The problem is, for the everyday person there really isn’t anything else they can do. Sending money isn’t going to heal the emotional trauma that has been dealt to the victims, nor is staging a protest on the streets going to prevent the next act of terrorism. The very essence of the problem of terrorism is that most of us are against it, yet it still persists because it only takes a small group of people to conduct it. Lambasting people for wanting to pray for Paris’ wellbeing is shockingly out of touch. It doesn’t matter if it does nothing—it’s just a way for people to heal emotionally because that’s all they can do at the moment.

The second part of the backlash was far more legitimate. As the media jumped to show unity with France, a small minority voiced a serious concern as to why the Paris attacks were being given special treatment as opposed to the ones in Beirut from just a day before. The contrast between these two were impossible not to notice—one stirred up global attention, while another slipped beneath the surface with the countless other countries that suffered similar calamities.

Although the message is certainly worthy of future consideration and debate, it became distorted by the accusatory tone that was often used to present it. There seemed to be a strangely common belief that in order to highlight the tragedies happening in other countries, one had to diminish what had happened in France. All of a sudden people with French flags as their profile pictures were shamed for being ignorant. Unfortunately, lost amidst the finger-pointing was that the true power of the mass media was temporarily forgotten. The fact is that the array of images and stories pushed by a handful of juggernaut news corporations are what influences us the most. When they want to turn the volume up on certain issues, it is ridiculously easy for them to do so. It’s hard to be vigilant on calling out the media for its hypocrisy when our only source for doing so is the media itself. The people who attempt to do so are a vital component to the progress of our society, but their words would be far more effective if they took heed not to shoot the messenger.

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