What Paris has really told us

As the world woke to the Paris attacks on Saturday, the response was collective fury. Social media and traditional media alike drew on the ire, and have prompted “merciless” reprisals from the French government for the 129 deaths from seven coordinated attacks across Paris.

We know that social media, particularly Facebook, can be a dangerous echo chamber for like minds, but controversy rose as Facebook’s decision to implement its “safety check” feature for the attacks in Paris, but not after twin bomb blasts in Beirut a day earlier, became widely broadcast.

Critics of the site accused it of valuing the lives of Western victims more than those in the Middle East and other regions. The global media has consistently highlighted the loss of white, Caucasian lives with significantly more gravity than brown or Arab losses. Those who dispute this charge have claimed that Paris received enhanced social media because of the closer cultural ties to the English speaking world, and ability of users to imagine the famous city more easily.

However, the public’s complacency in associating with a historically white, European capital rather than a major Asian port city, also a capital of around 2 million people is not to be excused, as it shines a blinding light on the undeniable discrepancy in the value of news, events and lives around the world.

Social scientists and political pundits alike often pose, hypothetically, whether civil society and the media would react differently were the shoe on the other foot. Would that comment have been so slammed by the press had it come from a different mouth? Would such leniency be given if the offence were committed by another? Many have asked since 9/11 if the resulting shift in our world would have felt alike if a different state had been victim than the US. Paris and Beirut have shown us exactly what happens to the shoe on the other foot; when similarly deadly, coordinated attacks occur in similarly sized capital cities, responses from individuals and organisations alike are comparable. The comparison here not only shows Facebook and the media in a poor light, but should also be a sharp wake up call for the general public.

Where our society, and indeed our personal social circles, have stumbled unwittingly into a place that can allow this sort of unconscionable bias, and blatant discrimination, it screams at each of us to not only tell ourselves that we treat others equally, but that we need to actively and consistently be critical of the circumstances around us in order to maintain the equality that is necessary for any democratic society. This means carefully considering the news you read, the people you do business with, and those you associate with to quash creeping discrimination that surfaces in a crisis like this.

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