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Opinion: Social media reactions to Paris attacks demonstrate unfair selective grieving

The terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 were truly heartbreaking and devastating. They were organized by the extremist group ISIS, at least 129 people were killed and hundreds more were injured.

The media has shown an outpour of support for Paris and the victims of the terror attack. It is overwhelming to see the world come together in times of tragedy like this. I feel just as much confusion and heartbreak as the next person, and am very supportive of those affected by the events on Friday. However, through all of this, I have become very aware just how selective our grief is when it comes to crimes committed against humanity.


Within hours of the attacks, my Facebook feed became flooded with the hashtag PrayForParis, French flag photo overlays and creative peace signs made out of the Eiffel Tower.

This is not wrong. However, I question where this kind of reaction was when ISIS carried out many other kinds of attacks against innocent people in other parts of the world. Where was the Egyptian flag photo overlay when dozens of Egyptian Christians were beheaded in Libya because of their faith back in February? Where was the hashtag for individuals in the Middle East who were executed by ISIS militants for identifying as homosexual? I did not see a single prayer on social media for the little boy who was set on fire by extremists back in March. Why are we selective about who we publicly grieve for?

Perhaps we have just become desensitized to this sort of violence in countries which do not uphold the same standard of living as we do. Thousands of innocent people have been killed by extremists in 2015 alone. Each day, we turn on the television and see another act of violence somewhere far off on the other side of the globe. When a country like France becomes the victim, it hits closer to home. It is a country that is often romanticized, which makes it difficult to imagine it can become victim to tragedy. We may be reminded of 9/11, and how devastating that was for us. It reminds us of how vulnerable we really are, even as a developed nation.

The fact is that all lives are equal. The death of a Parisian at the hands of terror is just as devastating as one of a boy living in the developing world. We must be willing to stand up for every innocent life if we are to fight against those who use despicable violence in the name of their own “cause.”

Changing your profile picture may be a way of showing support, but at the end of the day, it will not cause change. As more and more people add blue, white and red to their profile, it seems more like an act of sheep in the herd than anything else. We feel like we have to make these proclamations on social media to show that we are as hurt and shocked by Friday’s events as everyone else.

It is not a bad thing to use social media as a platform for expressing grief. However, if we want to make real change, we must be willing to go the extra mile. Many humanitarian groups rely on donations to provide relief for victims of crimes committed by ISIS. If you would like to make a donation, Gleaning for the World is an excellent non-profit organization that provides basic supplies for those who need it most.

At the end of the day, pray for Paris, pray for Lebanon, pray for Egypt, pray for Syria and pray for everyone. These folks, and many others, all need our help. They are all victims of needless hatred and violence. We must show our support and love for all to stop these crimes against humanity for good.

Collegian Columnist Megan Burnett can be reached at or on Twitter @megsbcollegian.

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  • C

    Catherine EricssonNov 16, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    If we had to change our social media profile pictures to a country’s flag every time there’s a terrorism attack there, we would never have normal profile pictures. You can come up with a “pray for humanity” logo every time there’s a terror attack, but then you’d have to permanently keep it on your profile, that’s how many terror attacks there are. Of course grief and outrage is selective. How is it possible to show your support each and every time there is a terror attack somewhere in the world? Do I set my timer to think about Beirut for 10 minutes, then think about Lebabon for 10 minutes and then Paris for 10 minutes? We can do this all day long. We’re not going to get constant news coverage from places where there is constant unrest. This is simply impossible. Paris is glaring because attacks such as these aren’t commonplace, which is why people may have reacted with greater shock. It doesn’t make the people in Beirut’s lives any less important, but let’s think about this practically. How are we supposed to show our support for Paris/Lebanon/Beirut etc? Not show it at all in case some people take offence? This term, “selective grieving” (whoever coined this ridiculous term) is rather redundant in my opinion.

    • S

      SincerelyNov 17, 2015 at 8:40 am

      And, to be quite fair, it’s not because people don’t care about terrorism in other countries, it’s that they weren’t aware. It’s sad, but true. The media is a business, and they put out stories that they think their market would be interested in. “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” [Though I’m loathe to call it stupidity (I prefer ‘ignorance’).] People are well-meaning but ignorant, in my opinion, and have very selective points of view.