How Facebook’s French Tricolor Flag Is Dividing Britain’s Timelines

You can now place a French tricolor flag over your Facebook profile picture in solidarity for the people of Paris. But users are questioning why other countries facing terror attacks are being forgotten...

How Facebook’s French Tricolor Flag Is Dividing Britain's Timelines

by Sophie Wilkinson |

After the atrocious Paris attacks this weekend, which saw a group of ISIS terrorists kill 129 people and wound 352 more across the French capital, there has been a scramble. Not only to comprehend what went on and why, but to work out how the response best handled and where we must now stand on issues like immigration, politicians’ promises, Islamist extremism, Islamophobia and public order.

We’re shaken and angry and know that whatever we say won't be heard as loudly as what the terrorists did. And while politicians broadcast statements and survivors tell their stories to papers via viral online posts, the average person is transmitting their thoughts via social media.

Isis are, on the whole, seen as such a distant terror that they're almost beyond reproach - making it much easier – and safer – to attack those closer to home. We try make enemies of those closer to us, because better the devil you know, and all that. Anti-immigration sentiment on Twitter from Rob Lowe and The X Factor’s Sam Bailey is easy to ridicule and swat down as the sort of sentiment that got us into this mess. And the same goes for the downright bigotry from the now-arrested beauty salon owner who banned anyone from the ‘Islamic faith’ entering her establishment. In the same way reading a Katie Hopkins column makes us feel better because we can assure ourselves that we're united against her, these lot give us someone to feel angry at - a safe-ish enemy who we're pretty sure won't cut our tongues out.

But over on Facebook, well-meaning attempts to help and unify us all against hate - positive moves to unite us - have also been getting criticism.

The Safety Check function – used by 4 million people on Friday - was called into question. Very few disputed its use – to quickly alert families and friends that you’re safe – but people queried why this tool, previously rolled out during natural disasters, was now being used in France when it hadn’t been employed after other terrorist attacks. Mark Zuckerberg cleared up –

– that from now on, the Safety Check will be rolled out to during other terror attacks.

As for the tricolor flag Facebook is offering all of its many-nationed users to swiftly lay over their profile photos? Like any loud profession of allegiance online, this comes with the suggestion that to not sign up to it is to not care about the matter at hand. Conversely, does this clicktivist response to tragedy actually do anything beyond gain that user a few ‘likes’? Plus, just as some bigots used ‘Je Suis Charlie’ to defend their right to spew hate under the guise of 'free speech', they’re now using the flag as an opportunity to legitimise whatever anti-Muslim rhetoric they’d like to pronounce online.

As for the French flag specifically? To many, it’s uploaded as solidarity for the people who have died, and for those who sadly now live in fear after the attacks. It means standing alongside our neighbour, a beloved country that we recognise and hold dear. Its culture – precisely what Isis set out to attack by hitting ‘soft targets’ – is something we share (or aspire to, in some cases) in our films, music and TV, our style, our food. Paris lives in our holiday memories and our hearts, it’s a beautiful city that the British have fallen both in love with and in, now shaken to its core.

But as much as we can feel the horror reverberating through Paris, other vibrant cities, cultural landmarks and areas of young, joyful, progressive people have been under attack. The day before the Paris attacks, over 43 people were killed by suicide bombs in Beirut, Lebanon. Last month, a pro-Kurdish rally in Ankara, Turkey was attacked by Isis and 128 people were killed. As for Syria? Over four and a half years, 200,000 people have died in its bloody civil war.

But there is no flag option for these countries. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by social media, where many have been keen to call out other people for putting a French flag over their avatar.

Grief is highly personal, and to police others on what to shed tears over is a game of insensitive bickering that helps absolutely no-one. While solidarity for France shouldn’t only be done for likes, haughty reference to other, less-talked about terrorist attacks shouldn’t be done for niche kudos points alone. Picking up on a lesser-known terrorist attack that you ignored only last week simply to prove a point now is perverse to say the least. And by arguing over this, we all fall into a trap, because this fast way of venting our anger, fear and frustrations by demarcating divisions between ourselves via alliegances to flags, means we stall on undertaking the detailed, depressing and time-consuming analysis of Isis and its methods.

By starting with Paris, though, and not the multitude of terrorist attacks preceding it, the implication is that Facebook somehow values a Western country more than other countries. Maybe France getting special treatment from Facebook wouldn’t be such a problem if the West hadn't played a part in the rise of extremism e.g. post-9/11 Islamophobic news biases, a useless Prevent strategy that sees Muslim students further isolated from the mainstream, billion dollar arms deals with the Saudis and an un-mandated war in Iraq. And perhaps allegiance to the French flag wouldn’t be so precarious if Hollande hadn’t just sent 20 missiles over to Raqqa, an Isis stronghold full of civilians already kept captive and enslaved by the vicious terrorist group.

A statement from Alex Schultz, vice President of Growth at Facebook, explains the one-click-French-flag could be the first country of many: ‘We'll also continue to explore how we can help people show support for the things they care about through their Facebook profiles, which we did in the case for Paris, too.’

And we now await Facebook's rolling out of other pledges of allegiance. Because out of the hatred and the bickering and in-fighting, here’s an opportunity for a multinational company to help it be known that as well as our suffering crossing borders, so too can our empathy for others looking to defy the terrorists.

If this sad and brutal loss of life – in Paris, Beirut, Ankara, Lagos, Syria and sadly so many more – can provide any hope, it’s that we can and will coalesce across borders against the delusional and pathetic forces seeking to destroy us. If Facebook’s along for the ride, then the more the merrier.

You might also be interested in:

Facebook Explains Why 'Safety Checks' Were Used In Paris And Not Beirut

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Reporter Claims Dog Is Sad About Paris Attacks. Internet Responds

Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophwilkinson

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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