Another atrocity shocks the world, this time in Paris. Again. Just under a year ago, the city was stunned when Islamist extremists stormed the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, a French weekly satirical newspaper, and executed 11 people. Last Friday, the 13th of November, extremists once again targeted The City of Light in a coordinated attack that claimed the lives of 129 residents and tourists, many of them young people gathered at an American rock concert.
After the January incident, the phrase Je suis Charlie (“I am Charlie”) made the rounds on social media, with many on Facebook swapping their profile picture for a black and white Charlie sign in a powerful show of solidarity with the fallen journalists and the French people. Today, there is an online storm brewing, and not just in response to the terrorists’ latest heinous act. Instead, this uproar involves Facebook’s safety check-in function and the photo filter, which allows users to overlay their profile picture with the French flag. Who could possibly find this offensive? Even those who typically complain about social media being onerous or a time-waste have to admit that this was both useful and deeply moving.
As it turned out, the day before the Paris attacks, two suicide bombers killed 43 and injured 239 in an ISIS-backed maneuver in Beirut. But the people of Beirut haven’t seen the outpouring of support that Paris received almost immediately following reports of a bomb. There was no safety check-in function activated in Beirut. And, Facebook didn’t unfurl a digital Lebanese flag filter for users to upload.
While #PrayforParis was trending on Twitter and a global audience has professed its concern for the French people on myriad social channels, nary a word has been uttered for the Beirut community. They have been overlooked.
Or so they (and we) thought.
While it’s true that the support for the city has reached nowhere near the levels as those afforded its Western counterpart, the reality of this double standard has at least been raised in online debates. In fact, many users have noticed this disparity in coverage and have taken to social platforms to protest it. They’ve even called out Facebook, demanding to know why no safety check-ins were made available to people in Beirut. Facebook’s rather lame response? A post (naturally) from Vice President of Growth Alex Schultz: “There has to be a first time for trying something new, even in complex and sensitive times, and for us that was Paris. This activation will change our policy around Safety Check and when we activate it for other serious and tragic incidents in the future.”
There’s a good chance that something similar in scope and size will occur again in the near future. And that, in itself, is tragic. Let’s hope that when it happens all social channels — and governments — are equipped to offer equal support.