Social Media use in the wake of Paris

A key disaster tool or just a disaster?

In the wake of the Paris shootings last month, swathes of people turned to social media to understand and mourn the atrocity that had just occurred. Messages of condolences and bids to understand the fate of friends and family characterised the next few days. Facebook swiftly activated its safety check application, enabling users to declare themselves safe in an area affected by a crisis, while also offering users the option of changing their profile pictures to one including the French flag, showing support for the people of Paris. Similarly, Twitter put its new moments tool into use allowing top news tweets and comments by celebrities to be highlighted. The popular hashtag, ‘#PrayforParis’ also quickly became a fixture of the outpouring of messages filling timelines across the world, with 6.7 million uses in just ten hours or the #PorteOuvert hashtag, offering shelter to those with none.

Yet, just a day earlier 43 people had lost their lives in Beirut, Lebanon, with the tragedy being a glimpse in the ever rolling international news scene. Nor had Facebook’s use of its safety check feature been used in any event of a similar nature previously, with its extension from just a tool for natural disasters only happening in reaction to the Paris shootings as Western society’s media coverage became fixated on an event that occurred just a few hours from London. What quickly became evident amongst active Facebook accounts was the seemingly disproportionate nature of media coverage the event faced. Also, Facebook’s offer of a profile picture swap for Paris raised questions over why just one world event was garnering such support. Misinformation was rife; the Eiffel tower lights were not deliberately turned off in response to the event while the photos of reported street marches were instead taken after the Charlie Hebdo incident and not the Paris shootings.

However, never has a social media response to an event been as prolific as the one seen after 13 November, increased global Internet access leading to a connected and international support. This new form of collective mourning, and the surge of support displayed towards the people of Paris, showed an act of communication that linked millions of people together. It also portrayed a different display of human reaction, coming to terms with an event that attacked the values western societies stand for and shook the security we take for granted in our lives. In our ever-changing global climates, the use of social media as a means of international connection is only set to increase.

Freya Ellingsen VII