If you’ve been on Facebook since last Friday’s attacks in Paris, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled into the Front National’s image bank – the social media site is currently hosting a flood of French flags, applied via a function enabled by Facebook in the immediate aftermath of the attacks which is, frankly, deeply problematic.
So you want to show solidarity with France – specifically, with those killed in Paris this weekend. If you’re a British person who wants to do that because you feel sympathy and sadness for people who are brutally massacred, regardless of their nationality, then fine. I just hope that you also change your profile picture to a different country’s flag every time people are wrongly killed as the result of international conflicts – for example, during the attack on Beirut in Lebanon just the day before.
In the west, we’re all too often taught to buy into Euro-centrism and to readily accept corporate branding initiatives in the guise of human kindness. Facebook’s use of the flag, as well as the new use of its Safety Check feature in the wake of the Paris attacks – the first time it has been used for an act of conflict rather than a natural disaster – is an example of both of these.
Euro-centrism - a worldview which centres and places overemphasised importance on the West - reinforces its supremacy through actions like these. And there’s no ignoring the fact that this stems from European colonisation. How deeply ironic, considering that the colonisation of the Middle East and wars carried out in Muslim lands put down the roots for extremist groups such as Isis.
It’s a dismaying and damaging truth that Westerners care about and empathise with images of white-skinned women grieving in Topshop bobble hats far more than brown-skinned women grieving in niqabs and, when you lend your voice to Euro-centric campaigns such as Facebook’s flag filter, you exacerbate this. When we buy into such easy corporate public mourning, we uphold white supremacy. We’re essentially saying that white, Western lives matter more than others.
This sentiment, when it washes across the world via Facebook in a sea of blue, white and red, provides a get-out-of-jail-free card for the West’s slaughter of Middle Eastern people in retaliation, causing the very thing we’re supposed to be up in arms over: the loss of innocent lives.
Flags are politically and historically charged symbols (just look at the infamous and aptly self-styled Isis flag itself), symbolising states and representing influence, power, segregation, borders, nationalism and identity – some of the most commonly held reasons for armed conflict. It’s important, before overlaying a flag on your smiling face, to think about this.
The irony of showing solidarity in this particular circumstance by co-opting the Tricolore is palpable considering the historical imperialism that, in the long term, helped to generate Isis, the political imperialism that drives them and the cultural imperialism that European flags represent. Given that Isis itself is known for its political propaganda through symbolism and social media - and that we decry the brainwashing of youths recruited to extremist causes via these means - why do we accept and promote propaganda when it’s handed to us by a social media corporation at the click of a button and without a second thought?
I’m guessing you didn’t feel moved to drape yourself in the Tricolore until Facebook pushed that option out to you, possibly even until you saw how many people had already snapped it up. But paint-by-numbers solidarity when it’s foisted on you by one of the most powerful companies in the world is simply not the way to help a traumatised nation in shock after murder.
Instead, seek out that context and the options that Facebook doesn’t give you in a simple, clickable add-on. If you want to show true solidarity with those who’ve been wrongfully killed, the first step is to acknowledge and mourn their deaths equally and genuinely, not just because they’ve brought to your attention by a tech giant’s misguided marketing tool. Quite simply, we owe victims of oppression round the world so much more than this.
For the other side of the argument, click here
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