A word on taking action through social media

Gillian LelchukIn light of the recent events that took place in Paris, Facebook has basically been on fire. People shared links to news articles detailing how many people were lost to the terrorist attacks. People added a filter to their profile pictures that cast a French flag over their faces. And people criticized each other for showing “support” but not actually doing anything.

Look, I understand that side of the story. Those people think that social media can’t enact real change or that just letting the world know you care isn’t enough or that by posting about it you’re just fishing for attention.

Okay, fine, I see your point.

But what else are people supposed to do? It’s not like everyone can just hop on a plane and go help the victims of the attacks. You can donate to a relief fund, but then what? You’re going to want to share the relief fund with your friends so they donate, too, and then you’ll get criticized for trying to use social media to take action.

We live in a digital age. I don’t have real statistics, and I am, of course, just speaking to my own opinion, but I do think social media can facilitate action. Even just changing your profile picture sends the message that you care. Maybe you just hopped on the bandwagon, but I think most people really do care. And now Paris can see that.

The last time colored profile pictures swept the nation was when the United States Supreme Court ruled for same-sex marriage, and the rainbow took over the internet. While this isn’t exactly comparable to the situation with Paris, the same sentiment was there. Everyone came together to show their support for a specific group of people. Did they actually do anything? No, but in spreading the rainbow they helped members of the LGBTQ community feel welcome.

Let’s also talk about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. This trend peaked during the summer of 2014 and consisted of individuals or groups of people filming videos of themselves pouring buckets of ice over their heads and then tagging their friends to do the same. The idea behind this was that it would help people experience, if just for a few seconds, what it is like to have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). If you refused to do the challenge, you were required to donate $10 to a foundation seeking a cure.

Critics of the Ice Bucket Challenge proclaimed that people weren’t actually doing anything. Sure, some people would donate money, but most people were just dumping buckets of ice water over their heads. So this trend didn’t accomplish anything, right?

Maybe. Or maybe it really did “raise awareness.” How many people knew what ALS was before they saw videos of ice water being dumped over all of their Facebook friends? And now more people know, right? So at the very least, didn’t that accomplish something? And more people definitely donated to research than they would have had they not decided to waste ice water.

So at the very least, throwing a filter of France’s flag over your profile picture shows your support for a city that is suffering. But it does more than that. It lets the people responsible for the terrorist attacks know that they aren’t just dealing with the citizens of Paris. The whole world is watching now.

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