Social media has an amazing ability to help alert a large amount of people in a small amount of time when disaster hits. Mass shootings and natural disasters are on Twitter and Facebook within hours, sometimes ever minutes. However, social media has the desensitized us towards disaster, diminishing the disaster while raising the response.
The 2015 Paris terrorist attack was an absolute tragedy, this much is obvious. But the social media storm that came afterward had an ability to weaken the “sympathy” expressed through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr etc. etc.. The Facebook profile filter was seen on almost every newsfeed, where the faded colours of the French flag covered someone’s previous profile.
Suddenly, a good deed had been done. The person who changed their profile to the temporary filter allowed the secure Facebook user to feel good about themselves, they had, after all, “prayed for Paris”.
This filter did absolutely nothing for the people of Paris and France, but the act of “showing support” made social media users feel like that was enough, that’s all that needed to be done in order to help. Twitter was no better, the simple hashtag “#PrayForParis” took Twitter by storm, but in reality nothing had been done to support those who had been present at the terrorist attack.
The same issue was found after the Orlando shooting. People added a rainbow flag to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community after a gay nightclub was attacked and many people were killed. I don’t know what percentage of people who added the filter also donated to programs like the Trevor Project, but my assumption would be that its not that large.
Social media is great for spreading information and addressing disaster, but if people begin to believe that a hashtag or profile filter is enough to make a difference, we aren’t going to get a lot done.