Why You Can Never Win at Social Media in the Wake of a Tragedy


In the aftermath of the horrific Paris terrorist attacks this past weekend, a new debate has surfaced surrounding the use of social media post-events.

Facebook has seen a flood of red, white and blue profile pictures as the internet scrambles to show its support, the hashtag #PrayForParis – is arguably the most frequently tweeted phrase in the last year and a peace symbol centred around the Eiffel Tower has appeared on many a celebrity Instagram page over the last few days. All of this support coming from a generation whose lives centre around the internet, a generation so quick to respond in times of crisis yet so hastily judgemental when it comes to social media choices.

Change your profile picture to encompass the French flag, a symbol of liberty, equality and fraternity to the French people, and you’ll be greeted by friends, family members and acquaintances you’ve met twice on nights out at university yet still know well enough to add on Facebook, commenting and accepting your gesture in support of the millions of Parisians still in shock. Post a picture of your most recent visit to Paris on Instagram and you’ll recieve much the same response.
But quietly in the corner of these social media sites you’ll find a collection of people waiting to slam you for your choices. Articles on indie news sites are calling the French Facebook filter a ‘cheapening of a tragedy’, the Pray for Paris symbol ‘an attention seeking attempt at gaining likes’. Those people so quick to like your gesture become very rapidly drowned out by voices criticising your attempts at sympathy.
Maybe they are right, maybe a quick post on social media can only ever be a virtual sign of solidarity. Perhaps it’s a lazy way of showing your respects – being just an effortless click of a button. But the elements of social media support that many appear to dislike, such as ease of use, the fact it’s so public and the promotion of these events by social media sites themselves, are the exact reasons as to why it’s a brilliant way to engage a so often unengaged generation.
It could be said that Facebook came into its own on Friday when it allowed its users in Paris to mark themselves as safe, saving people like me from worrying too much about friends studying abroad in the French capital. In one click, the wellbeing of some of your nearest and dearest: confirmed. The hashtags #PorteOuverte have helped those affected by the tragedy find a place of safety and #RechercheParis still provides information to relatives worried about survivors of the attacks.

Considering all of this, surely support of any kind is better than no support at all?
Maybe we could spend less time arguing amongst ourselves about how we approach situations like these and instead take time out to appreciate the little things around us.

For those innocent people targeted in restaurants, concert venues and leisure spots on Friday, we should focus on ‘Praying for Paris’ in whichever way we choose. Social media gives people the freedom to communicate, express and grieve in a whole manner of ways and we should never attempt to take this away from each other.


Writer, Radio Presenter and avid consumer of all things media, music and current affairs. As programme a Biomedical Science Finalist and Programme Controller of Surge Radio, I can often be found stressing over a giant mug of tea - but I wouldn't have it any other way.

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