The recent terror attacks in Paris reminds us that the role of social media has become an ever more important one. With social media platforms aid those in need – for example with the #PorteOuverte Twitter hashtag, which means ‘door open’, which helped those without a safe place in the city to find locals opening up their homes – and enable people worldwide to show solidarity and united support through features such as the temporary French flag profile picture filter on Facebook.
As the world reacted on social media to these attacks by Isis we were able to see the positive and negative effects of social media on the events that unfolded. Facebook created a safety check that allowed people in Paris to check in and mark themselves as “safe” on their Facebook page. This allowed their friends on the social network to see that they were unharmed.
The French president, Francois Hollande, used Twitter to keep people up to date with the situation. Other important figures such as the Prime Minister, David Cameron, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Republicans candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and Nato secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, all swiftly tweeted their sympathy and support.
[su_spoiler title=”Dealing with tragedy” style=”simple” icon=”chevron-circle” anchor=”End”]Weeks have passed since the Paris atrocity and the West is still reeling from the terrorist attacks. For many people this was not just an attack upon French citizens but an assault upon liberty, diversity and love. Isis want to unpick the very fabric of our liberal democracies strand by strand, and in the wake of such tragedy we must not unravel. That is what they want.
They want to turn communities against each other because their goal is global religious war. We must decide to mourn, remember and persevere but also, ultimately, we must lead by example. We must live and love and accept one another by continuing to cherish the cosmopolitan melting pots that are our great western cities. Isis is attacking our ideology and no war is worth winning if that means being subsumed by the intolerance and hatred of the cowardly terrorists.
They want to see a rise in jingoism and a spike in sympathy for far right groups, but the more we ostracize members of the Muslim community at home, the more we sow Isis’s seeds of division.
Times of tragedy and hardship are also times for reflection. Let us grieve our dead – ‘our’ because an attack on the city of love feels like an attack on us all. But we should not give in to reactionary politics. Rather, let wounds heal before inflicting them on others: there are some 40,000 civilians living in the Isis stronghold of Raqqah. We must consider whether drone strikes will bring us peace or kill more innocents and therefore radicalise their loved ones.
Solidarity means standing together. Democracy means leading by example. Let’s not allow the violent whims of a bunch of religious fanatics dictate our foreign and domestic policy.
As with many recent global events, social media also had a negative influence to the terrorist attacks in Paris. For instance, Islamic State supporters used Twitter to express joy over the bloodshed in France, tweeting: “Paris is Burning” and using the hashtag #ParisIsBurning. The online gloating of Isis often contained the Arabic translation of the hashtag with photos from the scenes of the attacks. Isis supporters also used the #PrayForParis hashtag to show their support for the attacks and praised the attackers. Celebrities have been accused of clamouring to offer pointless support for Paris on Twitter (so-called hashtag activism); on the other hand, other well-known names have faced “fierce backlash for not jumping on the cyber-bandwagon”.
The use of social media has been efficient to some degree at following the current events: whether it’s documenting Isis’s destruction of musical instruments, irreplaceable artefacts and heritage sites; their efforts to eradicate any historical evidence of previous cultures; or sickening social media posts illustrating the their ideology – for example, Isis claims that they are destroying museums as they “have to destroy every statue that is a symbol of a worship different to theirs”. However, recent evidence posted online shows that they are selling on pieces they have looted, so it is very much funding related with little theological concern.
Other issues surrounding the use of social media is the lack of mainstream coverage of other Isis attacks. For instance, the lack of coverage in Europe of the Beirut attack (which perhaps is understandable to some degree: it is in a relatively unstable area, with a perception of serious violence being routine) has been described as sparse. With its failure to draw the kind of social media attention that followed the attacks in Paris (which, again is understandable: Paris is familiar to most of us. When did you last go on a romantic city break to Beirut?). This lead to the hashtag #PrayForTheWorld becoming popular on Twitter.
Social media is essential to recruitment for terrorist groups. Facebook has become a key platform to gather new recruits and to encourage them into acts of terror with propaganda and the “use of Islamic grievance”. Social media allows recruiters to stay anonymous and makes it increasingly difficult for the good guys to prevent these atrocities from happening.
The social media hastags #ParisAttacks and #PrayforParis were used to convey messages of condolence and solidarity from around the globe. When social media spreads these events it allows people to witness the horror and pain experiencing a sense of vulnerability. It has the power to unite people. It gives us a chance to show empathy and compassion. It can inform and misinform. Acts of terrorism are to get public attention, make a statement and spread fear.
However, messages in support of Isis on Twitter and Facebook show terrorism for what it really is: senseless, inexcusable violence. And as Pamela Rutledge said in Psychology Today: “online and offline worlds are just ends of a spectrum of life. Online trauma becomes offline support through actions and donations. Our emotional and practical reach is far beyond our immediate circle of acquaintances”. We can have support of a new global community much larger than has ever been encountered.