I #StandWithParis, but I’m Not Changing My Profile Pic

As I write this, we are less than 48 hours removed from a horrific act of terror committed against the people of Paris. The death toll stands at 130 and is likely to rise. Facebook is awash in images of people posting images of their trips to the City of Lights, and most ubiquitously, the vertical blue, white, and red strips of the French flag. Facebook provided a helpful tool to overlay the French flag on your profile pic, and even created a “Safety Cheek” to allow you to check on loved ones in Paris. Some people, well actually quite a few, have a problem with that. I am among them, but not for the reasons you might think.

A day before the Paris attacks, ISIS suicide bombers attacked an open-air market in the Bourj al-Barajneh district of Beirut. Forty-three people died and 239 were wounded. In April, al-Shabab militants attacked a university in Kenya, leaving 147 dead. In January, Boko Haram murdered over 2000 Nigerians. Why did the Paris attacks merit such an overwhelming show of support, while these other equally heinous acts did not? Closer to home, why didn’t people change their profiles when people were shot in their church during Bible study, or when a bunch of kids and teachers got massacred at their elementary school?

Some people have castigated those who changed their profiles, suggesting that they are callous, or heartless, or racist, for not doing so in the aftermath of these other tragedies. Black and brown lives in the Middle East and Africa do not matter as much as the lives of (white) Parisians, some would say. As a result, they have actively resisted (in some cases, very vocally) the call to rally around the French people. Some have even gone so far as to post pictures of the Kenyan flag. SIGH!!!

People are such sheep. The tragedy in Kenya happened 7 months ago. I can imagine that it is painful to the family of those killed to have their tragedy used as some sort of geopolitical talking point about the importance of Black and Brown lives. If you really gave a shit about those dead Kenyans or Nigerians, you would have done so in the immediate aftermath. Doing so now is nothing more than a slap in the face of those experiencing a tragedy RIGHT NOW. Do your homework before you jump on the next Facebook bandwagon. Although…

We should not gloss over the fact that these incidents in Beirut, Kenya, and Nigeria received little to no press, at least in the Western media. We can only respond to what we know about. Is it really the fault of Joe Facebook for not changing his profile pic when he wasn’t even aware that such a tragedy had happened? How could he be expected to make that change when the option wasn’t even presented to him?

Speaking of bandwagons, this brings me to the first reason I don’t support this profile change foolishness. Remember when Facebook provided the tool to change your profile after the gay marriage decision? Turns out, this was probably a data gathering experiment. Facebook is continually gathering information about you and by changing your profile during the gay marriage decision; you just gave them a huge insight into who you were, how you think, what is important to you, and, by extension, how best to market to you. In other words, it’s all about how best to make money off you. Congratulations on that.

The second reason is that it’s useless and self-indulgent to change your profile picture in the face of these tragedies because it does not actually accomplish anything. Now if $10 was donated to a relief fund when your profile was changed, then perhaps, but that’s not the case here at all. Other than the smug satisfaction of being part of a movement that appears to be helping without actually doing so, nothing is achieved. Changing your profile is the bare minimum that you can do to show that you are even aware of the situation in Paris or Kenya or anywhere else in the world.

If you really want to #standwithParis, there are many ways to do so that don’t involve giving Facebook even more invasive access to your personal life. Donate to the French Red Cross or support local French organizations like Secours populaire française.

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