When faced with news of horrific tragedy, like that of this weekend’s events in Paris, the outpouring of numbers and names of victims can leave you numb. The extensive media attention regarding the Parisian tragedy has sparked a widespread expression of public anguish. Behind the raw numbers there are poignant stories, many of which will be heard and quickly forgotten. You will continue your life as it was before because, the truth is, it’s unlikely this news has a direct impact on your daily routine. I’m not saying this to make you feel guilty or insensitive; I’m acknowledging it as a common reaction to catastrophes rendered intangible by distance. Other violent ISIS attacks, as many have pointed out amidst this crisis, have even been completely neglected by the shadow of Western media, and thus they have failed to receive any consideration at all.
In an effort to redeem your survivor’s guilt, you may reaffirm your solidarity via social media with a status, tweet or picture. The power of social media to unite people from hundreds of countries around a single cause is inarguably awe inspiring. Many question if this phenomenon has any significant impact other than easing a guilty conscience though. I believe that a contagious social media trend is important because it reveals what issues the public is concerned with and what they can rally behind. If an idea, event or cause animates people, it is not to be dismissed. It shows that people care and there is the potential for action.
However, the question of the actual impact of social media solidarity is not the one I want to address. I think it is important to note that the origin of this question rests in doubt concerning the virtue and authenticity of the people who copy-paste or add a temporary profile picture. This is not to say that everyone who partakes is making an empty claim, but many are under-informed. Nonetheless, the tendency of people to follow the masses is magnified because social media makes it effortless. For some, Facebook and Instagram are their only news sources; thus, they are only informed of what the people they follow are concerned about, skewing what they themselves deem important or newsworthy. This can lead users to share things instantly just because everybody else is doing it. Many people are aware of this careless copy-paste syndrome; it’s what taints statements of support and solidarity with a trivial hue. My goal is not to tell you that you shouldn’t change your profile picture or affirm your solidarity with the grief-stricken citizens of France. I believe this expression of support is one of the most extraordinary gifts of the connections social media allows us to make. This cascade of consolation would be dramatically more compelling if we stopped mindlessly pressing ctrl+C. All I ask is that before you hop on the solidarity bandwagon, you take 20 minutes to inform yourself about what you are endorsing. Odds are, you will still choose to declare your support and prayers by whatever means you feel appropriate.
When grave tragedies happen far away, it is easy to disassociate ourselves and continue on. Proceeding with your daily life as follows isn’t wrong and nobody should make you feel that way. However, if you are going to speak about how an event like this has affected you, please be able to explain why. Find out exactly what has disturbed you. Another amazing thing about the internet, besides it’s unifying power, is the way it has enhanced the accessibility of knowledge. There are so many nuances behind and within crises such as these. I found myself asking so many questions and instead of ignoring them, I’ve attempted to find the answers.
Personally, I won’t change my profile picture or make posts with the #PrayforParis, but that’s not because I am unaffected by what has happened. I think the outpouring of support, prayer and thought is incredible, but I choose to express myself differently. My social media presence will rarely reflect my political or ethical opinions, but that is a wholly personal choice. There are many people in my newsfeed whose thoughtful, educated presence I admire and can learn from.
To the students of Tufts University and educational institutions everywhere, to all people throughout the world attempting to understand this horrific event and prevent future tragedy, I want to remind you that your voice is powerful. The things you say and post will have an impact on somebody somewhere that you may never be aware of. Please consider your potential influence on others. Education is revered as the source of progress and societal improvement for a reason. In the harrowing wake of such heartbreaking tragedy, I urge you to seek understanding to better yourself and those around you. Seek news sources other than your news feed; strive to read multiple opinions on this politically, socially and ethically loaded subject. Be thoughtful, be considerate and never hesitate to share your honest opinion
Finally, I choose to express my support for the victims of undeserved carnage and chaos in not only Paris but also Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria by asking questions and trying to find the answers. I will not stop trying to improve my understanding by exploring multiple perspectives. I will do my best to be an informed and considerate citizen of the world. I express my deepest condolences to the victims of these merciless crimes and their grieving families, friends, cities and countries. I pray that we will never cease trying to enable peace wherever possible.