Once again, social media took center strage during a tragedy, in this case the Paris attacks on Friday night. TV and radio and print couldn’t keep up with the rat-a-tat-tat of information and misinformation. Even websites were hardpressed to hit refresh fast enough. As a journalist, I can imagine the frustration from editors everywhere trying to get a handle on how many attackers, how many crime scenes, how many victims.
Some people took to social media to let loved ones know they were safe. Others offered billets for stranded visitors in Paris or advised people about free cab rides.
Many of us, feeling incredibly frustrated and wanting to do something, posted positive messages and filtered Facebook photos in the tricolour of the French flag.
There is no proper etiquette for this type of thing. One man’s empathy is another person’s apathy. Some quoted Martin Luther King JR., others quoted Jane’s Defence Weekly.
I am so saddened by the loss of life in Paris. And in Beirut last week. And at that Afghan hospital that was bombed last month. And for the countless victims of senseless violence around the world, most of whom we never hear a word about.
Paris resonated with so many people because it’s like New York. We feel as if we’ve been there. It’s so familiar thanks to music and movies and tv shows. It’s also pretty to look at and when it’s made ugly, it’s particularly jarring. Perhaps images of dusty streets being hit by drone fire in far off countries doesn’t have the same effect.
That’s a shame. That’s why I travel. So when I see a child begging on the street in Cambodia, I can relate. When I see the exhaustion of a guide in Cuba or Tunisia, they are not The Other but they are like me. They care about their kids and their future. (And they are much better educated and more patient than I will ever be.)
One of the most horrible things about this type of violence against soft targets is that many people will be convinced to stay home, batten down the hatches and not leave the familiar, not venture out into the unknown. The problem is the familiar is where xenophobia grows like mould or a virus. The more we interact, the more we get to know people from different cultures, the more we can relate. The more we can care about them. Caring about humanity as a whole is an abstract and can be paralyzing. Caring about individuals can spur us onto action.
But with much of the Middle East in chaos and now the safety of travel in parts of Europe in question, people are likely to cancel their travel plans . You can’t blame them. Safety first and all that. But it’s a shame because isolation fosters ignorance and ignorance foster intolerance and intolerance fosters violence.
So, I’m not going to use a tricolour filter on my Facebook page or #prayforParis. What I hope to do–money and circumstances allowing–is book a trip to France this summer. That is how I am going to show my support and love and thumb my nose at those who would prefer I cower in my home under the covers.