After atrocities have been committed, the sense of helplessness we feel is sometimes hard to bear, and social media platforms seem a natural way to expressing support for those affected. While I in no way condemn these messages, I would hope that my Facebook friends know me well enough to know that Paris and Parisians are on my mind without my putting a fancy filter on my profile picture. There is something slightly trivializing about the whole idea. A Facebook profile picture is intended to generate likes. This at least partially dismisses what is an incredibly serious issue.
It is unlikely that even if I were to change my picture any of those actually affected would ever see. Further, even if they did I find it hard to believe that they would draw any real comfort from it. It only serves to further separate the plight of those in the West from those in the countries from which such terrorism springs. At such times as these it is difficult to forget those for whom such acts of barbarism are not simply a tragic anomaly but a fact of daily life. While it’s been said already, it is worth repeating that for this very reason that we cannot lay blame the on migrants for these attacks; the vast majority of the migrant crisis for these attacks since the majority of the migrants are those fleeing from the very people who commit such crimes. Nobody changes their profile picture to a Syrian flag, or a photo of a monument in Iraq and so to do so only when these tragedies occur in a place close enough in distance and culture that we become frightened reduces the scale of the problem. It suggests that it is a one off that can be fixed by drawing further divisions between ourselves and the attackers rather than searching for a way of communicating a message of peace and drawing the whole world together.
In general I worry that this generation, in the Western world, has become too passive. Many of those who have changed their profile pictures may see their small action of applying a filter or joining a hashtag as enough. Then we return to our everyday lives, ignorant of how many thousands have been killed in Syria, of how many students are being killed in Kenya, and how many girls and boys are being refused an education across the world. When we react so publically to one single event it makes us feel as though we have done something to help, we have added our voice to the world and now we can return guilt-free to our endless quest for followers and likes. But this is not enough. There are so many other ways of reacting to the attacks in a more active way: write to your MP about whether we ought to bomb Syria in reaction, join one of the many marches of solidarity taking place all across the country, or if you’re in Paris donate blood via the link below, or donate money to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies which directly supports the French Red Cross.
Of course, keep Paris in your prayers, and if you know someone in France send them a message of support. On the other hand, you needn’t join the crowd and change your profile picture; I won’t be.