Think Before You Post: A Note on Social Media in Times of Tragedy

Guest Post by: Erin Acklin, student

On the night of November 13th, 2015, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris, France. The attacks took the form of mass shootings and suicide bombings, and occurred inside of the Bataclan theatre, inside of restaurants, and outside of the Stade de France in Saint-Denis. The attacks killed 129 people and left at least 80 others in critical condition. In the aftermath of the attack, social media was abuzz and news outlets were constantly bringing forward new information. The world received the basic news updates but much more. Personal stories, motivational posts, grievances, and prayers. Facebook introduced a photo filter of the French flag for profile pictures. However we also saw posts of fear and anger, messages of hate. In the wake of the attacks came a whirlwind of social media. And with all this social media buzzing, it is important to ask ourselves about our motivations to post in a time like this.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 10.11.59 PMCitizen journalism has become almost a main source of news. We look to Facebook and Twitter to get caught up on common day occurrences. Social media harnesses a lot of power. These past events have shown us the ability social media has to spread either hope or fear in just the click of a button. I don’t deny that social media can change the minds of those who view it, or that it is a place where ideas grow. However, what tangible benefits does Paris receive from our Facebook posts and hashtags? Social media has given us a platform to shout our encouragements and declare our support from a safe distance with no real obligations.

According to an article on International Business Times, things like the Facebook profile picture filter breed what researchers call “slacktivism.” These online support trends allow social media users to declare their support without actually having to commit to the cause. People can associate with a cause without truly being involved in it. Much more than that, researchers have found that these sorts of social media support trends have actually had negative affects on garnering actual support, specifically financial support. Because people are able to visually and publicly display that they give their support, they don’t feel they have to take any real action. They are already associated with the event.

So, is this ethical? Surely people have the right idea when they post to social media with support or update their profile picture with the colors of France. I would argue that people are perhaps just not fully thinking about their actions. But to build from that, I think that people have an ethical obligation to start thinking about the ways that they use social media. In times of terror, verbal support can have great impact, but we can do so much more. Surely we can give more to Paris than a Facebook filter.

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