how should we grieve on social media?
Last week's terrorist attacks in Paris threw into the spotlight the confusion around how we should react to tragedy online.
On Friday night I patiently waited for my husband to get ready for our ménage a trois with James Bond at the local cinema. I aimlessly swiped right on my iPad to discover and watch in real time the horrific events in Paris unfold.
I launched Twitter, something that has now become second nature when a tragedy like this occurs, I'm all too aware news desks have political agendas, (and they're largely sourcing their imagery from the same platform until they have a camera at the scene) I wanted to know what was really going on. Within minutes my feed was full of messages of shock, condolence and #PrayforParis began trending.
I started to type my own contribution to the hashtag; I rewrote my 140 characters almost as many times. I deliberated on what to say, what would be appropriate and what phrase could express my disappointment in a violent world submerged in many forms of extremism (and not just those spoon fed to us by Murdoch). I wanted to be careful it didn't come across too cliché or untimely and here's where it gets ugly - I turned to Google translate; I thought perhaps I could say something mindful in French. I knew I had to say something and I knew I needed to say it soon.
Since I'm being this honest here's the brutal, uncomfortable truth - its at this moment I realised my body was full of adrenaline, perversely excited at the prospect of contributing to the international live stream of consciousness - perhaps I'll say something that's profound and useful for other peoples grief. I felt ashamed once I had realized this, for a brief moment I forgot myself, I forgot my humanness. I opted for 'Thoughts with our sister city tonight', begrudgingly disappointed I was that person - all too eager to share and at the cost of human life.
Within a few hours artist Jean Jullien had created the Eiffel Tower peace sign and the awful events had a motif that were still unfolding and any group had claimed responsibility for them.
As the events within Bataclan become clearer Twitter began to turn on itself. Tweeters posted their disappointment in other Tweeters ignoring attacks in Kenya, multiple suicide bombings in Nigeria and the bombing of innocent people in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Other tweeters then attacked the critical tweeters for being too cynical, too soon. I too was angered at the shortsighted Islamophobia of some commentators but I kept quiet - was I being respectful or ignorant, or both? Of course the proximity and relationship between Paris (only three hours on the train away, nearer than Glasgow) and London means Londoners feel the issue is closer to home, but with all the noise surrounding our social media about 'appropriate response' I'm lost as to know what appropriate is anymore.
Overnight our landmarks, search engines and favourite websites were draped in the French flag. Facebook responded by allowing its users to overlay their profile image with the tricolore too. My husband said, "...someone's baby scan is covered in the French flag" and through gritted teeth he muttered, "that's the most Facebook thing ever". We winced, understanding the sentiment but feeling that something felt a bit wrong about it.
48 hours after the attacks I began to devise tweets about Ben Whishaw in London Spy but before hitting tweet I stopped myself, it felt too soon to talk about the telly, showing the world I had, with ease slipped back into the routine of normal life - was this that bit of pre-internet humanness I was searching for? Two days ago I had eagerly wanted to share - what had changed?
It's been only a week, now, since the terrorist attack in which 129 people died, the perpetrators have been named and France is beginning, slowly, to put its capital city back together. Profile pictures that were once glazed in the French flag have begun to slowly return to unvarnished pictures of family pets, Drag Race stars and those baby scans - it seems allegiance has an finite time frame.
Friends continue to argue endlessly about the correct response though, -- often resulting in them blocking each other because it's easier to get rid of each other than be tolerant of each other -- there's a clumsy analogy here that I'll allow you to join the dots up on.
I didn't change my profile picture to the tricolore, I didn't #prayforparis and I didn't screen-grab and repost Jean Jullien's peace image but this doesn't mean I, or anybody else who opted out of the aforementioned frenzy is ignorant to the destruction, pain and fear that has been caused to those affected by last weeks attacks. It doesn't mean I'm not angry that more innocent people have been killed because of books written on beliefs founded thousands of years ago. It doesn't mean I'm not able to see the wood for the trees and think critically about why these attacks have taken place. It doesn't mean I'm not angry that governments are using these deaths to push through laws shrouded in fear that will affect our liberty. It doesn't mean I'm any more or less compassionate than anyone else. Grief, respect and appropriateness are personal responses and it's up to us to personally gauge how we express them.
What is the appropriate response? Well, I don't know. One thing I can be sure of is no matter how many times we change our profile picture the world does not become a more peaceful place but this doesn't mean you shouldn't - if it makes sense to you, it makes sense.