Paris attacks – shortly after

A day or two after Friday, November 13th, when ISIS (or ISIL, or Daesh) committed its cowardly Paris attacks, I happened to open the Facebook app on my iPhone. I was presented with a question – would I like to temporarily have my profile photo overlaid with the French Tricolour? Still disgusted by what I had just seen unfold live on TV, I thought “why not?”. After all, I’m pretty sure it only took two taps: one to accept the suggestion, another to choose when it would automatically be changed back. I chose one day.

This type of gesture has become increasingly popular across social media in recent times. I remember seeing hundreds of people adopt a rainbow flag overlay around the time of Ireland’s Marriage Equality vote earlier this year. However, this was the first time that such a thing had been automatically presented to me.

Last week I watched El Clásico on TV; Real Madrid versus Barcelona (one of the great fixtures in world football). Before the match, in place of a minute’s silence, a stirring rendition of ‘La Marseillaise’ rang out around the stadium. A poignant moment observed immaculately by everyone. Great.

Just the other day, I saw a photo of President Obama laying a solitary white rose outside the Bataclan in Paris. Great.


Wait, there were other attacks?

But more and more, I’ve been wondering why we haven’t heard the Lebanese or the Malian anthem anywhere (two countries that have also suffered grotesque attacks in recent weeks)? Why doesn’t anyone want me to adopt a Lebanese or Malian flag overlay on my Facebook profile photo?

In terms of sheer fatalities, the Paris attacks were indeed on a larger scale to those that took place in the Lebanon and Mali (136 is the most recent statistic I’ve seen). But didn’t Russia lose 219 people (in addition to four Ukrainians and one Belarusian) when Metrojet Flight 9628 was downed just days earlier? Sure, Russia hasn’t had an amazing few months on a political level (e.g. the recent Olympic doping scandal). But surely that doesn’t render the loss of over two hundred of its innocent civilians any less tragic?

I don’t think there is anything wrong whatsoever with public gestures of sympathy for France. For the record, the disgust I feel regarding the Paris attacks and the sadness I feel for its people remain entirely unchanged. However, I have been thinking about the other recent terrorist attacks around the world and questioning the seemingly inconsistent level of coverage being given to each. Why is the loss of some life seemingly more horrific than that of other life elsewhere?

The flag of Lebanon. I haven't seen too many of these on Facebook recently. Definitely not since the Paris attacks.
The flag of Lebanon. I haven’t seen too many of these on Facebook recently.


Good ol’ media

Media coverage obviously has a large part to play also. The other day I saw a video on the Sky News app which began with an on-screen caption informing me that it featured the sound of a female suicide bomber blowing herself up. Where exactly is the line between journalism and cynical ‘Hollywood’ sensationalism? We’re talking about some nondescript footage which is interrupted by a loud bang. Perhaps the warning should have been preceded by the slogan “IN CASE YOU MISS IT!”?

Sky News video warning.
A ‘warning’, or sensationalism?


Surely, on some level, the nature of the Paris attacks has helped to stir up this tabloid frenzy. Because of the time of day it all happened, those like me in Western Europe will have watched it all unfold on TV. Like with 9/11, it was ‘LIVE’. Mr. Murdoch’s viewing figures must have been through the roof. Recently I saw a Sky News reporter guiding viewers through a hotel room in the Radisson Blu in Bamako, explaining to the camera with wide-eyed wonder how she was standing in the very place that the killings took place. Dignified, it wasn’t. But hey, at least they were devoting some coverage to what happened in Mali.

The national flag of Mali.
The national flag of Mali.


Again, my feelings about what happened in Paris remain unchanged. But I can’t help but feel in hindsight that my adoption of the Tricolore on Facebook has, in a way, helped to perpetuate this imbalance. Obviously, if we all changed our profile photos every time something tragic happened somewhere in the world, maintaining a Facebook account would sadly become a full-time gig. So no, I don’t have all the answers – but I do think it’s important to consider this. And, at the very least, it’s no harm to have one more Lebanese flag and another Malian flag posted online. Solidarity and all that.