Social media is meant to be emblematic of human connectedness, interaction, and community in a globalized society. The availability of news, entertainment, and emotion is so immediate and simultaneous with live events such as the terrorist attacks on Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad, that social media, in these moments of crisis, becomes sentient; a living and breathing entity, emboldened with empathy and the means to do good, but also vulnerable to human error.
Much like opposable thumbs, (and even more important than this physical feature, many scientists say) our ability to feel empathy is a trait that makes us uniquely human. Empathy during the aftershock of grief comes in many different forms: a hug, verbal or written condolences, an offer of help, amongst other things. In this era of globalization and connectedness, how do we show someone halfway around the world that, even though we are very far, our hearts extend to theirs? How do we show that we mourn, feel, and notice their pain and suffering, and that we support their healing? How do we give them strength?
In the wake of the November 13th ISIS attacks on Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad, Facebook tried to answer these questions, and boldly (or brazenly, as some feel) rolled out a French flag profile filter, and has been a divisive display of solidarity since. Where were the flags for Beirut, or for Baghdad? Where were the flags for the countless other countries and nations attacked by ISIS? And above all, what real-life action does adding a filter to your profile picture do? Is this slacktivism?
Acts of terror are meant to snuff out human decency and create fear in order to shift power toward terrorists groups. It is a gateway to nationalization instead of globalization, and creates disconnect and isolation. Facebook’s move, as inherently ignorant as it was, was a move toward empathy, unity, and connectedness, in an attempt to relinquish that power from ISIS. A flag on every Facebook profile is like a digital flower at the doorsteps of France, and Beirut, and Baghdad, with every individual saying “I am here with you, I mourn with you, and that together, we are stronger than them.”
It may be a minor (and frivolous) form of support to most, but with 70% of internet users on Facebook, it is a shining display of human resilience and willingness to stay empathetic in a world where it is so easy to be apathetic.