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Paris, Facebook, and Refugees

The Editors of Canons are making an effort at valid journalism here – attempting incisive analysis. Hopefully the following does no injustice to the victims and those that may have been affected by the moments of terror in Paris earlier this month…

It remains to be seen whether the Paris attacks will affect global politics in the same way the attacks in New York did on 9/11. In the aftermath of those attacks, the George W Bush’s “War on Terror” ensued and bin Laden and Al Qaeda became integral elements of the 21st century political vernacular. At some point Jessica Chastain showed us what “enhanced interrogation” while being a bad-ass terrorist hunter.

ISIS, a splinter group of Al Qaeda, now occupies center stage in the modern geopolitical Great Game that has predictably cast historically antagonistic Russia and the United States as the main actors. Beyond this, the attacks in Paris are still too fresh to intelligently comment on. What the past two weeks have shown us is that French sorties in Syria have increased ten fold, as have anti-terror measures throughout much of Western Europe – Belgium and France especially. Attention has, as of late, turned to a small hamlet in Belgium – Molenbeek as a particularly relevant geography in this otherwise complex situation. The recent downing of a Russian military aircraft over Turkey, however unfortunate, is a largely independent event. It nevertheless stokes the flames of tension the region.

The terrorist attacks in Paris resulted in an understandable public reaction, thankfully one that in large part expressed solidarity with France and condemnation of the terrorists and the attack itself. Reactions on and about Facebook remain interesting.

Facebook programmers created a safety check-in feature which now allows users to ‘check-in’ on the social media platform and let their friends know they are safe. Facebook was widely criticized for this move. Why had this not been done in the aftermath of the Beirut bombings that took place a mere day earlier? Similarly, world leaders and global cities showed their support for Paris by lighting up metropolitan landmarks. Instantly, it seems, we went on the defensive. Is there some underlying racism going on here? Do we not care about the people in Beirut?

As far as individual reactions went, it is quite understandable for people to react and make a statements about the events on social media. One of the things that quickly spread like wildfire were people pasting an outline of the French flag over their profile pictures on Facebook. It spread so quickly that Facebook itself created a little utility you could use to temporarily make the change to your profile picture.

While some apparently think this is an important symbolic move, we feel it is the laziest, most self-serving narcissistic piece of posturing that one can do. No matter how hard one tries, hashtags and other social media trends won’t change the world. It becomes impossible to tell who is actually gives a crap about these issues and those who simply jumped on the bandwagon because it was easy and everyone else was doing it. Applying a rainbow filter to your profile picture does not make you a champion of gay rights. Similarly, applying a French flag filter to your profile picture doesn’t mean you’ve taken an aggressive stance against Islamic Terrorism or have undertaken a strong act of solidarity with the victims. It is simply a lazy way to show your friends how much you “care” about what’s going on in the world. But that actually isn’t the case, because if you actually “cared” about what was going on in the world you would be doing more than applying a filter to your profile picture; at the very least you would already be informed and talking about things like ISIL, Boko Haram (and no, sending out a tweet with the hashtag “bringbackourgirls” doesn’t count), the Syrian conflict, etc.

Social media by its very nature is an exercise in narcissism. Things like “hashtag activism” serve to exacerbate that effect by giving people an easy way to show to their friends and the world just how in touch and caring they are about breaking world events. It also removes the need for one to form an original thought or to think critically about the issues. It takes complex problems and events and turns them into a meme, something we can click “like” on, pat ourselves on the back for making a “difference”, and then go back to Instagraming pictures of food and selfies.

Bottom line is this: don’t be a sheep. Don’t jump on this inane bandwagon. If you care and are impacted by these events, express yourself using your own words and original thoughts, not by applying a filter to your profile picture along with millions of other people. You make a statement more about your own lack of individuality and critical thinking than you about your worldliness and solidarity.