I’ve been feeling especially on edge recently whenever I go online. And let’s be honest, is there ever really a time when we’re not somehow digitally connected all day long anymore? I always cringe when I look at the “Trending” section on the side of Facebook because it’s likely to be some horrific tragedy or something stupid the Kardashian clan has done and is somehow noteworthy. And this past Friday I actually accidentally went on a social media hiatus. It wasn’t until I opened the Facebook app late Friday night after having a glorious time celebrating my boyfriend’s birthday, that I was inundated by news of the attack in Paris. And subsequently my news feed on all my social media platforms filled up with #prayforparis hashtags and images of solidarity with the rocked nation. It broke my heart to read about the terror caused and lives lost. Soon Facebook rolled out their “change your profile picture to stand with Paris” feature and red, white, and blue stripes swept through my feed. Then came the fear mongers with their “All Muslims are evil! And refugees can’t be trusted!” And of course, in response, came the opposite views of “Islam is not ISIS! Refugees are victims not perpetrators!”
And amid all this digital chaos, I remained a passive viewer. I didn’t change my profile picture. I didn’t share a picture of the Eiffel tower turned into a peace sign with the #prayforparis hashtag. I didn’t comment on the articles I read on Islam, terrorism, and refuges. But I did become angrier and angrier as time went on.
Because first, I worried I might be perceived as unengaged or unfeeling. How could I not be saddened and horrified by what happened in Paris? Well…I am. I just felt disingenuous to share my immediate thoughts with the world through an overly used hashtag and image. Doing so would have constituted one of two reasons, neither of which I liked. First, I do have a worldwide audience on my YouTube channel. I very well might have subscribers who were in some way affected by the bombings in Paris. However, I couldn’t imagine that anything I said would have been beneficial to them when I’m so far removed from what they’re experiencing. Which leads me to the second reason for reaching out on social media in the aftermath of an attack—a reason of pure selfish and personal gain. Success in social media comes from jumping onto the latest trends and having something witty or controversial or memorable to say about it. And #prayforparis became a trending hashtag like any other. And while I don’t believe that the majority of posts I saw about Paris were made with the intention of selfish social media gain, I do think that we as a digital society have gotten too comfortable with the idea that we have a right to publically comment on everything that’s “trending” which includes tragedies.
Of course, this all seems rather contradictory as here I am commenting on it too! And perhaps, I’m falling victim to the very thing I’m calling out as a sin here, but I just couldn’t take reading another article or post or watching a video where someone uses this tragedy for their own personal gain. Talking about it in an educatory manner, I’m okay with (and what I have set out here to do), but I’m just so exhausted with how “this incident” or “that incident” means “this, that, or the other” when it never had any correlation except for the fact that something happened and someone with access to the social media realm posted something about it.
I actually read a really great article about the 5 Things Media Does to Manufacture Outrage and it’s made me feel a little better about my uncomfortable relationship towards social media. While it has so many wonderful uses (e.g. Parisians connecting with lost/confused people who needed a place to stay or just general comfort after the Paris bombings with the #PorteOuverte hashtag), I think it hurts us in ways we don’t quite understand yet. I know I’m feeling it. I just hope that those truly affected by the bombings are able to look past the tumult of social media in the aftershock on this tragedy.