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.

Twitter in a Time of Tragedy

I remember when the Boston Marathon bombing happened. I was at my desk, going about what should have been a normal, uneventful day. I was probably working on a story, turning to my Twitter feed every few minutes for a distraction. Buzzfeed had a list of funny Kim Kardashian quotes, Jimmy Fallon was playing a game with his celebrity guest, Food 52 had just tweeted out a new recipe, and that stupid Bob’s Burger’s parody account I follow was making puns—like I said, a pretty normal day. And then the first tweet went live: Explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

This is the world we live in today, where a single moment can change your life, and for those of us on the sidelines, we have to watch the chaos unfold from the scrolling feed of our social media accounts.

Since the launch of Twitter in 2006, the term ‘real-time reporting’ has taken a precedence, requiring journalists to report the news as soon as they possibly can, starting first with a brief, 140 character post, which buys them about five minutes to get the first news story onto their website. That initial tweet is crucial though—social media has created the desire for immediate gratification in younger generations, and once we see that first tweet, we are left craving more.

For professional news sources, juggling that immediacy with accuracy has become somewhat of an art form. Keeping up with competition requires breaking the story before everyone else, reporting as the news develops, but if you get something wrong, the backlash seems to be greater than in the past. I remember with the Sandy Hook shooting, an incredibly sensitive story to cover, how accuracy was so important. And yet so many news sources were putting incorrect information out there—some made the situation seem less drastic, others made it seem worse. It took me a while to sift through the chatter to find the sources that were actually taking the time to confirm their report before putting it out there (which ironically was the BBC, who tweeted information five minutes after the other US sites).

So what exactly prompted me to discuss Twitter’s role in breaking news? Well, unfortunately, once again we have to watch tragedy unfold, this time at the Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., where a shooter opened fire around 10:38 a.m. PCT. By 11:38 a.m. PCT, reports confirmed the shooter was in custody, while the death toll stood at 10, with another 20 plus reported injured. The numbers are still rising, and I’m sure by the 10 p.m. news we’ll have a better idea of what happened. Until then, we wait and watch the reports trickle in over social media.

It’s heartbreaking to hear about another shooting. My good friend, Michele Richinick, over at Newsweek has spent much of her career writing about gun laws, and how our nation is shaped by gun-related tragedy. Today, she tweeted out that this is the 142nd reported shooting at a school since Sandy Hook.

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That’s 142 times that lives were shattered. Students who should be rushing to finish their homework assignments instead were rushing to escape; to save their lives. We can argue for years about gun control, but the fact still remains that our current laws aren’t working. You can always read more about my thoughts on gun control here.

What was unique to the coverage of this most recent horror though, was the tweet from one website. I’ve complained before about how it irritates me that during a time of crises, many Twitter handles are still posting links to completely irrelevant things, and it always makes me angry. While I wait for more updates about the situation, I can’t stand the tweets about a new hair product, or how some online personality ‘can’t even’ over the latest poster of Zach Efron. The man buns and national food holidays that occupy our airspace on regular days suddenly become obsolete during times of tragedy. Which was why this tweet from Refinery29 will stick out:

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They get it. They understand the importance of sensitivity. Because when the world stops, you suddenly realize what really matters.

Update, Friday, October 2, 2015, 10:15 a.m.:

This shooting has brought up a discussion topic that breaks my heart–mass shootings have become so common in our country, that we have a routine for it. You could sense the anger in Obama’s speech as he went through, yet again, the same speech about senseless violence killing innocent Americans. “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough,” he said, making a clear statement that action needs to be taken regarding gun control. Because, for F*CK sake, why the hell does this keep happening?!

I also HIGHLY recommend you read this piece from Newsweek reporter Polly Mosendz on the routine of a reporter covering a mass shooting. “Mass death is prewritten in America,” she tells us. This is where we stand, America.