The Paris Terrorist Attacks and Social Media

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by Nina Webb

As I’m sure you’ve all heard, on Friday in the French capital a wave of tragic terrorist attacks by eight armed gunmen was unleashed, killing roughly 129 people. On Saturday, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, in a video circulated via the Internet stating that ‘eight brothers wearing explosive belts and carrying assault rifles’ carried out the attacks on ‘carefully chosen targets’ (although it is almost impossible to access the video or even a transcript of the video in any language, this is could simply be the result of the heavy encryption of ISIS media platforms). This has resulted in the declaration of a state of emergency in France – and an ensuing emotional frenzy on the part of the Western press and social media. The situation, like the death of any one person, is indeed a tragedy, and pretty frightening, and my heart goes out to the families of all of those affected. But why should the deaths of certain people, especially in the eyes of Western media and social media, be seen as more important than others?

What the media fails to address is the fact that this number of people die in war-torn LEDCs every day – in some areas, maybe even more. Think about it: when do we ever hear the numbers of casualties from Syria, from the Ukraine anymore? (The first result I got when I searched “Ukraine” in Google News was an article by the Guardian about the Ukraine vs Slovenia football match). These crises are still ongoing, as they have been for years now – but for some reason, we never hear about the fact that more than 200,000 people have been killed in Syria since its civil war began, 3,000 have died in the resulting refugee crisis which was made up of a majority of Syrians, and 8,000 have died in the Donetsk region of Ukraine since the beginning of 2014.

In the case of Syria, although the official line in this country is that the West, particularly the US, has been bombing ISIS, they fail to mention the number of civilian casualties incurred as a result of Western bombs, and how extensively civilian lives have been disrupted. Whilst governments and media in the West have been trying to construct what is very much an “Us vs. Them” situation, i.e. the West vs ISIS, it must not be forgotten that ISIS is not synonymous with Syria or Iraq. ISIS is representative of only a handful of extremists. Most Syrian civilians are not represented by the views of ISIS, and they should be treated as victims of bombs and attacks just as people in the West are. Their deaths should not be treated as any less important than Western ones, and should receive equal coverage. It angers me that simply because France is a ‘First World’ country, our people sympathise with her so much more, when in some countries, the population has to deal with such atrocities almost every single day.

Trawling through the news on Saturday afternoon, it really was difficult to find anything else to write about. If it wasn’t a story on Paris, which I tried to avoid when I headed to the UK section of the BBC, it was a story about a Briton being amongst the dead in Paris, or it was a story about the evacuation of Gatwick Airport due to a gun being found on a French man. Unsurprisingly, ‘breaking news’ linked the story about ISIS and Paris to another of the mainstream media’s pet hates: the refugee crisis, as it was detailed that one of the terrorists was a Syrian refugee, according to a Greek government official. Therefore, again, rather than sympathising with their plight, the media served only to spread further hatred for the refugee crisis, and for Syrians – simply because of one bad egg, amongst thousands that need our help.

Social media has been even more caught up in this emotional frenzy. No disrespect to the people doing it, but changing your Facebook profile picture to the same one of you with a French flag filter over it is not going to stop international terrorism. Nor is tweeting “#PrayforParis” (which, if you really have to tweet something along these lines, should at least be #PrayFortheWorld). Although, on the part of some, these are nice gestures for spreading solidarity, sadly, like most social media phenomena, the above actions are done by many simply for likes and retweets, without any real meaning behind them; without many of the people even knowing the full story. And it’s perfectly possible to pray for these people and keep them in your thoughts, without publishing this all over social media.

When Australian actress Ruby Rose tweeted an all-encompassing tweet that read, ‘Today has been devastating. #lebanon #paris #syria and everywhere under at- tack right now. this is not a blanket post this is a post for today’s horrific news which spans many countries’ she faced an intense media backlash, accusing her of ‘taking away from Paris’ rather than actually making a valid point.

There is bad news everywhere. Just because Paris was on that day the only Western city under attack, that did not mean it was the only city under threat in the world – and (social) media should not portray it so.

ninawebb

2nd Year History student; Deputy Comment Editor.

2 Comment

  1. I agree with the problem you’ve raised here, but it strikes me that you may be subliminally motivated by the same drive that you go out of your way to denounce. If we take your sweeping generalisation to be true, that most people are only showing solidarity “for likes and retweets” because their actions are not achieving anything, then we could also assert that you’ve only written this article for the same reasons because it “is not going to stop international terrorism” either. The only difference here is that you think your public display of your feelings in regards to the events of November 13th are more meaningful than those of the majority. I’d like to believe that your raising of the issue of Western media biases has been done out of your care for the whole of humanity, but the contrarian nature of your article suggests that you feel special in some way for caring about issues that you assume are beyond those that your friends or most people are exposed to. Anyone could easily argue that you’ve merely joined a social media fad too, that of the sophomoric rejection of the sincerity of expressions of care from most people about Paris, just because they are not as aware of the myriad violence occurring in the world as you believe you are. How aware do people need to be before they would not be criticised for not knowing enough? On average about 1,800 people are murdered every day in the world. That’s almost 10 times as many killed in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad put together. But who’s criticising you for not complaining about this every day? The point is, your criticism of the majority reaction is based on relative awareness of what’s going on in the world, and you rightly identify the main culprit behind this problem – the Western media. But who are you to decide what level of awareness in the public is good? Nobody will ever know all the scale of all the atrocities going on in the world, so there’s no point in trying to undermine people just because they didn’t know as much as you did or the others calling out mass ‘slacktivism’ going on here. Personally I think it’s actually a good thing that this many people actually found out something about Paris, because they didn’t have to – most people could have quite easily just carried on not giving a shit. Calling them out for showing some implicit sense of appreciation and acknowledgement, no matter how impactless, is itself even more impactless. Ultimately, I think your article is too pedantic, and you should make a greater effort to address the genuine problem of press bias not by criticising individuals but by attacking the real culprits, those being the media barons like Murdoch and Rothermere. Instead you chose to reduce the issue to a relativist, tit-for-tat over who knows/cares more and who’s the biggest bleeding-heart liberal.

  2. I agree with the problem you’ve raised here, but it strikes me that you may be subliminally motivated by the same drive that you go out of your way to denounce. If we take your sweeping generalisation to be true, that most people are only showing solidarity “for likes and retweets” because their actions are not achieving anything, then we could also assert that you’ve only written this article for the same reasons because it “is not going to stop international terrorism” either. The only difference here is that you think your public display of your feelings in regards to the events of November 13th are more meaningful than those of the majority. I’d like to believe that your raising of the issue of Western media biases has been done out of your care for the whole of humanity, but the contrarian nature of your article suggests that you feel special in some way for caring about issues that you assume are beyond those that your friends or most people are exposed to. Anyone could easily argue that you’ve merely joined a social media fad too, that of the sophomoric rejection of the sincerity of expressions of care from most people about Paris, just because they are not as aware of the myriad violence occurring in the world as you believe you are. How aware do people need to be before they would not be criticised for not knowing enough? On average about 1,800 people are murdered every day in the world. That’s almost 10 times as many killed in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad put together. But who’s criticising you for not complaining about this every day? The point is, your criticism of the majority reaction is based on relative awareness of what’s going on in the world, and you rightly identify the main culprit behind this problem – the Western media. But who are you to decide what level of awareness in the public is good? Nobody will ever know all the scale of all the atrocities going on in the world, so there’s no point in trying to undermine people just because they didn’t know as much as you did or the others calling out mass ‘slacktivism’ going on here. Personally I think it’s actually a good thing that this many people actually found out something about Paris, because they didn’t have to – most people could have quite easily just carried on not giving a shit. Calling them out for showing some implicit sense of appreciation and acknowledgement, no matter how impactless, is itself even more impactless. Ultimately, I think your article is too pedantic, and you should make a greater effort to address the genuine problem of press bias not by criticising individuals but by attacking the real culprits, those being the media barons like Murdoch and Rothermere. Instead you chose to reduce the issue to a relativist, tit-for-tat over who knows/cares more and who’s the biggest bleeding-heart liberal. But yeah, nothing personal, just try and think about why you are writing something as well before you start slating people for how they think about why they are writing something, as I should too think about it as I post this comment :p

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