Since last Friday’s attacks in Paris, I’ve read a lot of backlash about the responses that everyday people around the world have had in social media platforms.
There are some who feel it’s meaningless – even destructive and shameful – that some of us replaced our profile pictures with temporary tri-colored images depicting the red, white, and blue of the French flag; that we flashed other signs of solidarity, like the “Peace for Paris” peace symbol over a drawing of the Eiffel Tower, designed by Frenchman Jean Jullien; or that we posted our own images from Paris.
From what I’ve read, performing any of these actions will land you in a group of people viewed as so lazy and self-serving that we couldn’t think to do more than click a computer mouse or tap a touchscreen a few times and reminisce about Paris in happier times.
None of these decisions we’ve made will solve anything, bloggers and columnists have argued, and, you know what, they’re right.
But you know what else? These are the actions of a populous that swells with grief for the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris and with the frustration that comes with knowing there is little else that most of us can do to help – other than read about or watch what happened and discuss amongst ourselves what we might do if we were in charge.
Have these writers who find so much to criticize in others done anything other than craft a few words in rage against the viral tendencies of online culture? Have they pursued any of the alternatives they imply, like joining the fight or donating time or money to a cause? Do they hope, in lambasting their readers for actions we may or may not have committed, to inspire us to some greater action instead? Do they plan to prove their own passion at the polls? Will they write to their local politicians or sign and forward petitions detailing their own solutions for stopping terrorism?
Maybe those writers have done all these things; or maybe they’re like the rest of us and don’t know what the solution is, other than to share our horror with the rest of the world and broadcast the need to do something that will serve to promote a better tomorrow.
So no, posting a photo on Facebook doesn’t solve anyone’s problems, but I see it as akin to wearing black at a funeral. Wearing black will not bring back our loved ones and it won’t prevent others from dying. It won’t capture those at fault for untimely deaths, and it won’t fund a solution. But it does show sensitivity for the deceased and compassion for those who survived. It keeps the spark of recognition alive in our minds every time we see those colors or symbols or images, and it might just inspire enough people to action who otherwise might not have done anything.
After 9/11, we had a symbol much like these images of the French flag. It was the American flag, and it was suddenly everywhere. It was flown in front of houses and stickered onto the backs of cars. It was sewn onto backpacks and denim jackets and sports uniforms. And 14 years later, it’s still there in many of those same places, because it continues to be a symbol of something we never worried was in jeopardy before 9/11. It reminds us why freedom is so important, and it infuses us with hope for a better tomorrow.