Quick Takes: Paris Attacks


Facebook’s introduction of a French flag filter to demonstrate solidarity for the victims of the Paris attacks has elicited various reactions regarding mourning via social media.

Filter Overlay Is Well-Intended but Doesn’t Show Substantial Support

The French flag filter on Facebook reflects a larger societal issue of wanting to appear as if you are helping others while not actually doing so. As Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in “The Prince,” “Appearing virtuous while not making the sacrifices necessary to be virtuous is the most advantageous.” We’re more focused on the outward appearance of helping instead of working to make a tangible difference. 

Facebook should have charged $1 to $5 or required a donation to use the profile filter and then donated the proceeds to victims of the tragedy. In that way, the profile picture is not merely an empty gesture but a real attempt to help. Although expressing sympathy should be accessible to everyone, these empty gestures diminish the value of social media. And peer pressure may push people into changing their profile picture merely to fit in.

On another note, maybe social media users could post to a public forum to express their sympathy and wishes to those in Paris. French citizens could then read these posts and directly access the support and love from the social media community. This would be similar to Humans of New York, a community where a photographer takes portraits and combines them with quotes or stories to provide the community with insight into a person’s life. This way, the community may add comments and sympathies for the photographed individual. This would create a community of people who can support and build each other up in times of need. While expressing support for a certain cause is admirable and appreciated, it is important not to forget that the world doesn’t operate on thoughts but on tangible contributions.


Existence of Only French Overlay Filter Forgets Other World Victims

Mass social networking, as the name implies, allows large groups of people across the entire world to hear opinions and news at an unprecedented scale. However, this swath of information is often difficult to separate from white noise, which in turn leaves many world events unnoticed by the average internet user. When the Paris attacks hit social media, users flocked to #prayforParis in order to spread news of the devastation. However, these posts were largely topical in nature and only encouraged a singular, mindless response by the vast majority of social media users.

An unfortunate aspect of such a large social media fixation is that users become largely unaware of other important issues. Beirut, another victim of ISIS attacks, only saw its hashtag #Beirut reach 130,000 tweets per day while #Paris reached over 11 million tweets per day according to Topsy, a hashtag analytic service. Instead of discussing anything besides France, users were stuck in an echo box where only a narrow construct of data was heard. Facebook helped this mindless behavior by only allowing users to apply the French flag to their picture, ignoring Beirut, Syria or other conflicts. 

Even more worrying, however, was how little serious discussion existed on social media after the attacks. Rather than discuss how French foreign policy or domestic politics helped fuel internal tensions, social media users simply repeated their messages of support while everyone else agreed. Rather than just continue the status quo, social media users need to think for themselves and learn to be critical about what they read so they can contribute to the conversation, not just parrot it.

— NATE WALKER  Contributing Writer

Users Should Be Able to Mourn Freely without Facing Criticism

It is ridiculous to become critical of a simple gesture such as the temporary French flag Facebook filter that shows solidarity and support. Many people have criticized this because it supposedly means that Western lives somehow matter more than those who were affected by the bombings in Beirut or Baghdad and other places around the world. Maybe people do care more about France than Lebanon, and if they do, why does that matter? It is their prerogative, and it doesn’t mean that the threat of ISIS in other places is being dismissed as insignificant. 

Let people mourn and show solidarity the way they want to. If people want to #prayforParis or change their Facebook picture, they will. Sometimes these simple acts speak louder and mean more than the $5 someone can donate. 

Although, USA Today columnist Steven Petrow encourages people to do more than just change their profile, that’s really many social media users can do. Social media isn’t the place to make grand gestures in response to the ISIS attacks, nor is it even possible to do much more. People who changed their profile or wrote #prayforParis or a similar message of support did what they could within the limited sphere of social media. 

Perhaps the world does care more about Paris than Beirut or other places suffering from terrorist attacks. But at this point, that shouldn’t matter. As a writer from Quartz said, “This doesn’t make me a hypocrite. It makes me human.” As people are affected by these tragedies, it’s time to show support for each other instead of criticizing each other for minute gestures meant to show solidarity. 

 —  ROSINA GARCIA  Managing Editor


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