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Facebook & France: In Support of Social Media Solidarity 

Facebook & France: In Support of Social Media Solidarity 

There is a lot of important discourse happening around the Paris attacks, both online and off. I’m going to discuss one of more trivial ones — social media solidarity — and why I support it.

Over the last few days, I keep stumbling upon petty declarations that say supporting France on social media is stupid, meaningless and egotistical. This refers to things like changing profile pictures, posting the Peace for Paris image, or uploading personal photos of the city.

I’m not sure what triggered the nastiness, but the mass of pessimistic press around Facebook & France bothers me. I suppose I’m just as bad responding to all these negative Nancys, but I haven’t really found anything that defends those who show their support on social media.

As an American currently living in Paris, I’d like to tell you why I disagree with the negativity, but also about how the flood of Facebook support impacted me.

In reading a lot of these articles, I have seen three main arguments for why supporting France with social media is stupid.

(full disclosure: I’m not going to touch on the lack of coverage of other countries… my focus is on how social media impacted a person (me) living in France at the time of the attacks)


Argument 1: People are posting for ego.

Many believe that the majority of people who have changed their photo or posted in support are jumping on the bandwagon to look cool. For likes, for publicity, for recognition of “look, I’ve been to Paris!”. You don’t know why they are posting. And you won’t know.

The reasons for supporting are very individual. Maybe they visited once. Maybe they lived there. Maybe they love the French language and culture. Maybe a relative or a friend lives there now.

Maybe this whole thing brings up a lot of emotion because they experienced something similar (e.g. 9/11, Mumbai or a school shooting) and they don’t want to air it all out on Facebook, so they do something simple  and post an image on social media.

Though you might not have a personal connection with Paris or France, you don’t know how someone else is connected, and ultimately, impacted.


Argument 2: They’ll forget in a few days anyway.

They believe that none of these people will care about Paris in a week; their profile pictures will return to normal after this “trend” fades from memory.

I disagree. This “trend” made many people aware of a relevant, important piece of news that will likely turn into history.

But still, life must go on. Many Parisians were out and about that very weekend. On Sunday, there were dozens on our block sitting en terrasse with wine glasses in hand. We ventured out to get a pain au chocolat and café, our own expression of solidarity.

Here, in Paris, people want to go about their day; they don’t want to live in fear. Just because life resumes, doesn’t mean that we will forget.


Argument 3: It doesn’t do anything to help.

Of course, changing your profile picture won’t solve the problem. But what else can you do? If you live outside of Paris, you can donate money to various organizations, get the word out about what happened and send condolences to friends.

If you live in Paris, things still feel futile. I want to do more than just send money. I cannot give blood, the hospitals and donations centers have more than enough. I offered shelter to a few friends of friends. I continue to watch the news and stay informed. We visited République, payed our respects and lit candles. I want to do more, but don’t know how.

This isn’t an easy problem to solve. Things like money, kind words, prayers, candles & flowers, and voila, social media support won’t fix the problem, ease the pain of the families left behind or bring back those we lost.

But, every act of understanding is appreciated.

Our Experience:

My husband and I are Americans living in Paris. We’ve been here for two and a half months. Though we have a few brand new friends, we’re pretty much on our own here — i.e. alone.

When we got news of the attacks, we immediately messaged our families to let them know we were safe at home. We wanted to precede any news they heard. Both of us had done this another time, back in 2007 for the Virginia Tech shootings. Familiar feelings of unease and “WTF is happening” rushed in.

As we got more information, we realized how close we were to the attacks in République. Just last weekend, we were celebrating my birthday on those very same streets.

I started getting alerts on every communication app I have — Facebook, Facebook Messenger, What’s App, KakaoTalk, Gchat, email and more. I feverishly replied, letting people know we were safe. My husband, sitting next to me, was doing the same.

Then Facebook activated two features.

  1. Safety check. A friend living in LA had marked me as safe. And all 11 of my Facebook friends in Paris were marked safe, even the ones I hadn’t known were visiting the city.
  2. The French flag option. I didn’t deliberate, I simply clicked a button and there it was. It was my way of acknowledging the attacks besides responding that we were safe.

After that, I noticed many of my friends started posting words and images of support — some blacked out their profile pictures, others used the flag filter, my sister uploaded the Peace for Paris image and countless others uploaded personal photos of Paris. Regardless of how the support manifested, it was comforting.

To me, these posts meant that even though we are an entire ocean away from home, we are not actually alone. I saw all my friends and family, recognizing and feeling the pain along with us. It was solidarity in it’s most modern, instantaneous form.

Thank you to anyone who has done a nice social media gesture over the last week, whether we’re Facebook friends or not. It’s appreciated.

I know that you’re not doing it for likes. You’re not doing it for me. You’re doing it because you’re a human who cares about other humans that had something sad and scary happen to them.

“They may have targeted you, but the world’s got your back.”
- Reddit user: funnygreensquares

And one last thing I’d like to put out into the world, please don’t find fault with a nice gesture, no matter how small it may seem.


Vocab for today:

  • solidarité - solidarity
  • partager - to share
  • soutien - support
  • gentil - nice
The start of the holiday season! Thanksgiving à Paris

The start of the holiday season! Thanksgiving à Paris

Visiting Place de la République

Visiting Place de la République