Grief and Social Media Don’t Mix

In the aftermath of the Belgium terrorist attacks on the 22nd of March, many people came together on social media to publicise their “OMG, that’s terrible, but” statuses, the ‘but’ being, of course, that we are wonderfully sentimental when it comes to our European neighbours being attacked, but woefully ignorant/indifferent/lackadaisical when it comes to the atrocities affecting our more far-flung allies. Apparently, you actually have to search for news of bomb explosions in Middle Eastern countries, whereas when a bomb explodes across the Channel, we get nothing but 24h/r news coverage, Facebook flag options, heartfelt cartoons and speeches by the PM. Besides the obvious flaw in this logic (how would you have known what to search for if you hadn’t heard about it first?), the problem that certain individuals are having isn’t necessarily with over-coverage of certain places, but rather under-coverage of others. And unfortunately for those people, their statuses just happened to pop up on my timeline.

Now, as an aspiring academic I have a real problem with people taking conversations out of their natural context. Surprise! a non-Liberal taking on the issue of globalisation in the life of an average Westerner. Because that’s who we’re talking about at the end of the day: you, the westerner. The middle class 20-something from an urban area of a ‘western’ country with a degree in IR and a BBC News app. You know, deep down, that issues you think affect every single person with a Facebook account – and without – actually don’t affect them, but for some reason this doesn’t seem to stop you from completely ignoring the context of your reality and forcing your ignorant, slightly hateful ‘message’ upon unsuspecting netizens who just wanted to show a little support for people who died.

In general, I think people posting anything ‘political’ or ‘culturally sensitive’ to a status for validation via ‘Likes’ is pointless anyway. But this isn’t about me; this is about people showing support the best way they know, and about you thinking about the context of what you say before you say it. When I say context, what I’m trying to do is explain to the best of my ability why it is that we are more aware of what’s going on in Europe than the rest of the world, and why it is that we display our grief over European tragedies more readily than those elsewhere. Surprise again! It’s probably not because we’re unfeeling xenophobes! More likely, there are two factors that play in this, namely history and proximity.

History. There is a reason it’s called ‘The West’, and why Europe is often viewed as a single destination (Britain included), though there’s less of a hue and cry about this compared to the uproar about labeling certain other continents. But I digress. The reason, of course, is a closely knit, tightly bound, 2,000 year+ history that ties each nation in the area together, despite the fact that it rolls right on into Asia without so much as an ocean in the way. Now you’re going to tell me that Britain has an equally long, slightly less reputable relationship with the Orient as it does with the Occident. But I’m afraid that 500 years of trade and colonisation can’t compare to Romans, Saxons, Vikings, and the fact that all of our royal families are related. There’s a reason that you can’t really tell the difference between a Caucasian from Denmark and one from Doncaster: we’re all related. By blood. It’s really that deep. And that deepness has even led to – after the creation of actual countries about 200 years ago – the creation of a little club known as the EU. Now with the ‘Brexit’ (lmao) on the horizon, you may have only heard about many of the negative things the EU has done for us (where’s the uproar about media bias now eh?), but believe me, it is super important. Check your BBC app.

Now on to proximity. Proximity geographically and, well, let’s face it, ethnically. If you’re from London or one of the UK’s other big cities, you can fall into that trap of believing that every other person has a mum whose accent changes when she’s on the phone with her family and who chases you round the house with a slipper when you forget to take the meat out of the freezer. Sorry to burst your bubble love, but the fact is that most British people probably haven’t even met an ethnic minority, but they probably have been to Paris. I have, on several occasions, been the first black person that someone’s met, and I’m not even black! Stop that train of thought. It’s not because they’re not ‘trying’, it’s because we only make up 13% of the population, only live in certain pockets of the country, only socialise with certain people (I won’t list the number of times I’ve heard someone say they can’t live somewhere because it’s “too white”), and only attend certain universities, etc. If you want people to know about the issues that you think are important, you need to get closer to them. Otherwise, stay in your lane. And the geography bit – give the average person an unmarked map and ask them to point out Belgium. If they can’t do that, then Iran’s a long way from home mate.

Now, why did I call you ignorant? Because you, the same people who are up in arms, crying out that the refugees that die fleeing for their lives are citizens of earth like the rest of us, are happy to slap a border on a tragedy and call a lack of graphic footage a travesty when it suits you. Yes, there is such a thing as underrepresentation in the media, and yes, equal coverage would be fair (though I’m not entirely sure what it would achieve). HOWEVER, just as you are overly sensitive of people not sharing heartfelt messages about a place they couldn’t point out on a map, do you not think that people will feel equally hurt at your pointing out their inadequate sympathy? They know people all around the world are suffering, we all know this. But be honest with yourself – do you really think that the people of Turkey stopped what they were doing, switched to their wifi, and made sure that ‘#WeareBelgium’ stayed trending on Turkish social media (yes, that’s right, other countries have their own, non-English social media too). And does it really matter whether they did or not? To you, maybe, but other people were probably busy minding their own business, grieving their own grief, and not measuring how much other people grieve, or which flag they have overlaid on their Facebook profile-picture.

We’ve gotten to a stage where we completely lack perspective, where we project our own feelings on to others first, and ending up blaming the wrong people. Not everyone expresses their grief through the same means that you do; again, grief is not measurable. Grief is not just Facebook and Twitter. And don’t try and apply your standards to the English speaking world if you’re not going to hold the rest of the world accountable when they don’t show the right amount of Facebook support when a bomb goes off in central London. Also, complete side note, don’t forget that British people give a lot to international charities. For all causes and all people.

So now all your responses to my above comments have risen to the tip of your tongue, I urge you to first stop, and think. Think about what you’re really trying to achieve – it’s a good thing, honest! Please, grieve for the people of Turkey, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Egypt, or any other country you feel isn’t getting their fair share of exposure. Please bring their plight to the attention of others.

Please continue the rallying call that we should, as citizens of Earth, band together against the blight that is international terrorism. Please grieve how you see fit. And when other people are trying to grieve, please let them grieve in peace. In their own way, at their own time.

Please, stop and think. Please.


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