Why My Facebook Went French

On Friday, November 13, terrorists struck Paris in what was the deadliest attack on the country’s soil since World War II. Explosions were reported across the city, shootings in a restaurant, a hostage situation at a concert hall. The attack left more than 120 people dead, with another 400+ wounded.

Over the past week, we’ve read up on every development—who organized these attacks, the retaliation from the French government, responses from other countries, and most importantly, the stories of hope that comes from the tragedy. You see, in the wake of every terror attack, we have to rely on each other to move forward. In Paris, direct victims will feel the effects for the rest of their lives. Residents, tourists, businesses, etc. in the city will see immediate regulations put in place to prevent future attacks, and the rest of the world will be on high alert, even if for just a short time. We’re still figuring out how to deal with this—it’s an ongoing battle.

For those of us who were not in Paris, who had to watch this attack unfold from our TVs, and we want to do something to help, if for nothing more than to show the victims that they are not alone. Some may donate money, some may pray, and for the millions of users on social media, we tend to turn to the simplest task that can still make an impact—we change our profile picture.

The Paris attacks are not the first time this has happened—we tend to use this tactic every time tragedy strikes. The colors and design change each time, but the message is always the same—we are thinking of the victims, we understand what happened, and that we stand with them. It’s the same reason we wear yellow ribbons—to silently remind the world that we are thinking of the troops fighting overseas. These little posts, they are symbols that offer some comfort to those who were directly affected. They remind us that we are together in this.

Since the Paris attacks, my Facebook page has turned into a sea of red, white and blue. Among the twitter of news headlines, funny cat videos, and Star Wars trailers, we’ve created a unifying reminder that as our lives move on, we are still thinking of those affected by the terrorist attacks. Days will pass, and slowly the social media site will go back to the way it was, exactly as the real world grows and moves on from each tragedy. But for those few days, our pictures act as a symbol that shows we are there, and that we feel their sadness. It’s our gesture to comfort those facing the unimaginable, and if it makes one person feel a little better, then I will be satisfied.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the same idea. Countering the posts of hope and love, I’ve seen so many people feeling compelled to criticize the profile picture change. They take a tragedy and, in an attempt to display their wider social view (?) or maybe their negative look at the world (?), and turn the argument into the weight of these pictures. They make the tragedy about them, showing how their self-righteous decision to NOT change their picture will have a better impact on the world. They could not be more wrong.

Some make fun of the concept, saying that it’s pointless to change your picture because it will not make a difference. But let me remind you, these pictures are meant to inspire and replenish hope to those in need; it’s just one little step in a bigger structure to make the world a better place. By pouring your negativity into that, you’re not helping. You’re just trying to tear our structure down.

Others may argue that instead of changing your picture, you should donate money. I agree that donations are appreciated, but sometimes people are in situations where they can’t make a donation. Or maybe they choose not to. But these people, the ones bitching about the pictures, are just looking for the pat on the back—it’s not enough that they donate money, but they need to be acknowledged as a good person for doing that. They’re missing the point—this isn’t about you.

Now yes, it may be a bit hypocritical of me to write about this, but the more complaining I see online, the sadder I feel. There is so much negativity in our world that it gives me anxiety—I shouldn’t feel guilty for changing my picture. I shouldn’t feel angry when I read these opinions. If I am feeling this way, I’m sure your negativity is not making anyone else feel better, especially those who are trying to piece back their life in Paris.

I chose to change my profile picture to the red, white and blue French flag to show my support, to let the world know that Paris was on my mind. If it makes one person smile, then it will be worth it.