Facebook Paris filters fail to show empathy

Following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Facebook gave its users the option to add a French flag filter to their profile picture. The purpose of these filters was to show support for the French as they grieved. A tremendous amount of people took advantage of the opportunity to show their support. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this public sign of compassion for Paris, I think the filters minimize not only the violence of the terrorist attacks, but also neglects the many other acts of violence occuring around the world.

Many Facebook users with no connection to Paris whatsoever mindlessly changed their profile pictures solely because everyone else did. People wanted to jump on the Paris sympathy bandwagon because they didn’t want to be viewed as heartless or uninformed. While the idea of the whole world coming together in solidarity with Paris is nice, it is short-lived and superficial.

Similar to the trends I saw when people changed their profile pictures to show support for the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage, Facebook users changed their picture back after a couple of days. Once the hysteria over the attacks died down, people reverted to their old pictures because they felt that they had “done their part” in showing their support.

This tragedy will never feel like old news to those personally affected, and it is wrong to belittle the attacks as a social media trend. The whole fad seems quite perfunctory. Changing your picture is an easy action for anyone on Facebook. It is a mindless action that lacks meaning.

I am aware that no one consciously tried to minimize these attacks, but it seems like many are only changing their profile pictures to make themselves look like they are both informed and sympathetic. This global effort to support Paris isn’t supposed to be about Facebook users improving their own personal image; however, it appears that in some cases desire for social capital movitated many participants in the social media trend.

The filters also minimize the other tragedies that occurred near the time of the Paris attacks. Hearing about terrorism, violence and oppression that result in huge casualties, such as those in Beirut and Russia. The constant reporting of violence in our world has desensitized us to tragedies such as these. However, as soon as we hear about violence happening in the Western world, people freak out. We live in a world where constant violence and turmoil persist, and while it may be impossible for every individual to support or acknowledge every tragedy, we must be conscientius about which instances of violence we privilege.

But my question is, why single out Paris? Why is Paris worthy of a special filter while Beirut, Afghanistan, Kenya, Tunisia, Iraq, Syria and countless others are not? Because the Facebook filters focus solely on Paris, they indirectly create the illusion that everything else happening in the world isn’t as important as events in the West.

Rather than attempting to make a filter for specific tragedies, which could be used for superficial means, it would be preferable to provide filters allowing users to support global issues rather than select countries.

Brooke Janusz ’18 (janusz1@stolaf.edu) is from Thousand Oaks, Calif. She majors in economics.

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