Following the devastating attack that left 129 dead in Paris on Friday night, Facebook introduced a new profile photo filter. The blue, white and red overlay aims to help users show solidarity in the wake of the country’s deadliest attack since the Second World War.
Online backlash, a frequent reaction to many social media endeavours, quickly ensued. Paris, despite the horrifying attacks, was not the only city to suffer massive atrocities.
Facebook users were quick to point out the blasts in Beirut that killed 43 and injured over 200 the night prior. Others mentioned the suicide bombing that killed 18 and wounded 41 at a funeral of a pro-government fighter in Baghdad, which also took place Friday.
Fuelled by rage and perhaps fear, users criticized the media for the lack of coverage on non-Western civilian deaths.
Innocent civilians in Iraq and Lebanon are surely no less valued than those living in France, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone, at least in our academic environment, to say otherwise. However, if you take a look at mainstream media, the coverage of our allies in the European Union drastically outweighs any other.
To many, changing your profile photo to show that you’re praying for Paris, but not doing the same thing following the attacks elsewhere, signifies an indifference to the suffering of those in countries far less familiar than your own. What might seem like a meaningful gesture can easily be viewed as a severe lack of sympathy.
Many of our reporters at The Ryersonian cite “slacktivism” when it comes to liking a page or changing your profile photo in order to show support. Slacktivism, the infant term that implies exactly what it appears, suggests a “yes I care about this but I’m not willing to do much about it” attitude. Changing the appearance of your photo doesn’t change what happened, nor does it prevent future tragedies.
Naturally, the overlay means different things to different people. Perhaps it is a comfort to see a familiar flood of colour while scrolling through your feed. It reminds us that we can come together to support each other in times of tragedy. To others, it may just be another click of a button that doesn’t really make a difference in the long run. Would introducing flag filters for every country that experiences tragedy really make a difference? Probably not.
Mark Zuckerberg responded to the controversy in a Facebook post on Saturday. “We care about all people equally,” he wrote. “We will work hard to help people suffering in as many of these situations as we can.” Facebook’s intention was not to be malicious. The feature simply represents a well-known notion that the West considers our suffering to simply be more important. It’s unfortunate that that’s the way it is.
What’s vital to take away from this tragedy is that the deconstruction of media coverage is one of the most important things constituents can do in a democracy.
This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Nov. 18, 2015.