The Titanic had sunk into the Atlantic on a cold April morning, breaking apart like a coffee-soaked biscuit, and when the RMS Carpathia first met with the survivors of the great liner in a sea of frozen bodies, she sent word of the tragedy back to New York.
The world went nuts.
By 6:30, the word had reached the relay station in Ellis Island, by 9 am, the story was on the front page of all the major newspapers. The Hearst Daily, The Hearst Times, The Hearst Post Intelligencer and even The Daily Hearst were all trumpeting the news of the great ship’s demise and for days it filled the papers. It was all anyone talked about. Then, unexpectedly, there came a lone voice.
“Whoa there, what about the tragedy in 1910, when in the town of Ököritófülpös, Eastern Hungary, 312 people died when a fire consumed a barn during a dancing party?” It was true; it had been awful, and it had happened so recently.
Then other voices rang out.
“And what about the 1911 Kebin Earthquake in Russian Turkmenistan; a tragedy in which 450 innocent lives were lost? That was also a very bad thing to have happened.” A newsboy shuffled indignantly on the street corner. “Hey Yeah!” He said to no one in particular; “You guys only care about those Titanickers so much because a whole lot of them were rich and white.”
For the last few days, I have been thinking about the back and forth reaction to the attacks in Paris. It’s hard not to, because my social media feed has been filled with articles about the attack.
Or rather, it’s clogged with articles about the response that people have had to the attack, and why we should feel bad about it, for whatever reason. Soon after Facebook introduced a filter that allowed users to superimpose the French tricolor over their profile pictures and the hashtag #prayforparis was all over Twitter, the counter arguments started rolling in about how other world tragedies and atrocities didn’t get as much of a huge (social) media response.
The trouble I have with the arguments about the response of social media is that I don’t feel that expressing sympathy with one group makes the suffering of another any less valid. Real world catastrophes become weirdly commodified when they are seen like this through the kaleidoscope of social media, which tends to operate on the same principle as the talent show clap-o-meter.
If something is shared through social media, the more claps or stars or likes or hearts or whatever the thing gets, then surely the good-er that thing must be.
To follow the logic of the social media economy, if Paris getting shot up is more widely shared or hearted than Beirut getting bombed, then it is the better tragedy.
Of course, ALL of these tragedies are terrible. To argue about the response on the various social media platforms is to reduce them to the same level as instagrammed brunches, vying for likes and attention. Bickering about awareness only distracts us from looking at the way in which social media can help in the real world, which has little to do with heart-on-sleeve sympathy and more to do with connecting people.
Aside from generating awareness, social media offers a powerful means of bringing people together on the ground after disaster strikes. The hashtag #portouverte on Twitter shared in the wake of the Paris attacks let people open their homes to strangers stuck in the city.
In the days since both the Beirut and Paris attacks there have also been a number of hashtag-based campaigns celebrating the solidarity between the countries afflicted by atrocities both recent and ongoing.
But really, we’re spoiled for choice. There’s just so much bad shit going on in the world all the time. It’s doubtful that Facebook will have you covered in the prefab flag-over-your-photo filter department, so fuck ‘em.
I offer you an honest DIY solution to this problem, good people of Internet.
1. Obtain Adobe Photoshop, however you choose to do this is
up to you.
2. Create a new document (180×180 pixels)
3. Drag your old profile picture into the document, or pick
a new one and crop it so it fits.
4. Create a new layer; pick the flag of a downtrodden nation or something that signifies a tragedy or cause, and drag the image into the new layer so that it’s ON TOP OF YOUR PROFILE PICTURE. THIS IS IMPORTANT.
5. Set the opacity to 25% so you can see your profile picture in the background.
6. You can do more than one if you want to. Why be limited? Stick a few on. Make a big ol’ SOLIDARITY SANDWICH.
So this solidarity thing is pretty good. But if you want to achieve global harmony in record time, I maintain that the only thing to bring us all together is an extraterrestrial invasion.
Hopefully They will come screaming out of the blue in their hopped up saucers, ray guns blazing, destroying national monuments like a red-cordial-fuelled toddler with a sledgehammer.
And for the first time ever, humankind will forget its troubles, and its divisions and genuinely stand together; people from all over the globe, united as one. At least until we send those bug eyed, betentacled bastards back to where they came from.