We must do more than #PrayForParis

Two men hold umbrellas that say "unite" while visiting a memorial site in Paris on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Two men hold umbrellas that say “unite” while visiting a memorial site in Paris on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

You sign into Facebook and learn that a terrible tragedy has happened in France. 129 people were killed by terrorists in Paris on Nov. 13. Friends and family are sharing the news using the hashtag #PrayForParis. The colors red, white, and blue take over your newsfeed. You click a button and suddenly your Facebook profile picture is transformed into the French flag.

Feeling accomplished, you continue on with your life, thinking you actually made a difference and stood in solidarity with the people of Paris.

People like you, the self-proclaimed activists, flock to social media to post the exact same thing as everyone else: “My thoughts and prayers with the people in Paris.” What is that worth? Nothing.

I have a problem with these people, who we’ll now refer to as “slacktivists,” a term used by researchers from the University of British Columbia. According to a series of studies published in the Journal of Consumer Research, people who would otherwise donate to a cause will skip out if they’re offered the chance to show their support publicly, like on social media.

Slacktivists do nothing. They don’t give their time, their compassion, or money. I’d venture to argue that slacktivists are selfish; merely posting a Facebook status or tweet is the same as raising your hand in the midst of the turmoil and saying, ‘Look at me! I read the news! Don’t forget about me today!’

Facebook makes pledging support as easy as one click. But what is that support worth to the actual victims and families and people of Paris who will never see you Facebook profile? Unless your actual friends or family members were affected by the attacks, the only ones who will see your support are those who do not need supporting.

The world needs more than our hashtags on Twitter and French-flagged profile pictures. Those affected by tragedy need more than our superficial support.

The terrorist attack in Paris isn’t the only one that happened recently, but it’s the one that received the most attention by far. Some argued that the media’s response was Euro-centric and placed more value on the deaths of the Parisians than those who died in the car bombings in Beirut the day before.

Their claims are not without merit. According to the Twitter analystics website Topsy, #PrayforParis received nearly seven million tweets. #PrayForBeirut received only 212,000.

Slacktivists using social media to show their “support” for the Paris attacks are only adding on to this behavior. Why are people around the world not supporting those facing violence in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Palestine?

By participating in slacktivism strictly geared towards the Paris bombings, social media users are helping to cover up the news of other terrors happening around the world in a sea of French flags.

If slacktivists truly believe a Facebook post claiming solidarity with victims of terrorist attacks actually makes a difference, they would have to change their profile picture to a different flag almost every single day to support the innocent lives lost around the world.

Instead of arbitrarily changing a profile picture for a few days or adding to the number of people participating in a hashtag, those who want to actively support the French people should consider doing it in a way that makes their empathy seem less impersonal or misdirected.

Social media is incredible at bringing people together and making the world seem like a much smaller place, but users should be careful not to mistake their posts of solidarity as actual support.

There are hundreds of opportunities to be a real activist, especially as a college student in a major city like Chicago.

Volunteer your time, donate to charities and by all means spread awareness of important issues on social media that need to be spread. But don’t give in to slacktivism and think that by posting a status or sharing a post you’ve done your good deed for the day. Don’t just be a blip on your timeline.