In 2015 alone, our world has faced a series of violent outbreaks and conflicts, affecting innocent people on both a national and global scale. But even in these moments of darkness, our society has stood together, especially after the tragedy that struck Paris last Friday in what became the deadliest attack against France since World War II. With 132 civilians murdered and hundreds more wounded by ISIS terrorists, the attacks in Paris demonstrated another devastating blow against humanity. This was also the country’s second major terrorist attack this year, following the Charlie Hebdo shooting in early January. As horrific and despicable as these attacks were, what surprised me the most was how viral the attacks had become online.
Within the 24 hours of the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday, people from all over the world showed an outpouring of support for the French on virtually every social media outlet. Twitter users tweeted their thoughts with the hashtag #PrayForParis; Instagram flooded with the now-circulating symbol of the Eiffel Tower attached to a peace sign; Snapchat created a filter with “Pray for Paris” scrawled in French and in English over a red, white and blue background; many people on my Facebook feed, including myself, have overlaid the colors of the French flag on their profile pictures. I was fascinated by how rapidly everyone showed their solidarity with the people of Paris. And while it’s uplifting to see everyone stand together with France in such a timely manner, it’s imperative that our society also recognizes the other atrocities around the world that the media has unfortunately neglected to publicize.
While scrolling through my newsfeed, I happened to find a report from Mic.com on numerous suicide bombings in Beirut, Lebanon that killed 43 and injured 239 this past Thursday. In addition to that, I found another story about a recent instance of a terrorist attack in Baghdad, where a suicide bomber had killed at least 19 people at a funeral in a mosque. In April, a group of al-Shabab militants killed 147 people at Garissa University in Kenya. Considering how much attention the Paris attacks received, it felt somewhat discriminatory that the media responded more quickly to attacks in Paris than in Beirut, Baghdad and Kenya. Does this mean that the media bases its focus solely on how drastic the situation is, where the location of the situation is and how many casualties and injuries there are?
It’s easy for people to simply dismiss the strife and brutality occurring in third-world countries because we have become so desensitized to the constant radical violence and terrorism in those places. It also makes sense that people respond more heavily toward the attacks in Paris, most likely because France hasn’t endured as many extreme terrorist attacks as Beirut, Baghdad and Kenya. However, this shouldn’t be the kind of groupthink our society employs in our everyday lives. No matter who the victim is, people are people, regardless of what region, race or ethnicity they belong to. The murdered innocents in Kenya, Baghdad and Beirut matter just as much as any of the murdered innocents in Paris.
In terms of how these events integrate into social media, would it make sense for Facebook to also have a Lebanese flag overlay to show solidarity for the victims in Beirut? Or possibly create a Snapchat filter for the Kenyan students who perished? I’m not entirely sure. But it wouldn’t hurt to write a status about Beirut, Baghdad and Kenya on Facebook, create a hashtag on Twitter or at least engage people in discussions about these kinds of atrocities. While social media helps connects us to others around the world, we need to remind ourselves that it also manipulates our cultural understanding and outlets like Facebook and Twitter tend to capitalize on these events. As Americans, we are only limited to what we perceive outside the country through what we see online, on television and on our mobile devices. To stand united as a world against inhumane acts of evil, we must understand and acknowledge the people who are also being affected by the same kind of evil. Once we achieve that, then our world can hope to live as one truly interconnected, peaceful and loving society.