Dear Hive Mind of Social Media Empathy Fads

Group Of Multi-Ethnic People With Speech Bubbles Social Media Concept
Group Of Multi-Ethnic People With Speech Bubbles Social Media Concept

What happened on Friday in Paris is a social media epiphany. At least for me. I have never seen my Facebook feeds so divided between those who ate off of Facebook's silver platter and French-flagged their profile pictures and those who resisted and defied the fad, citing that similar terrorist incidents occurred in Baghdad and Beirut, but there was no media outrage or Iraqi or Lebanese flags. Then there was the outpouring postings of Eiffel Tower tourist pictures. Suddenly on Friday night, just about everyone on my social media networks seemed to have had a French connection. Je suis Paris started appearing on my feeds. A lot of visceral focus on the aftermath and collective "grief," on the what, and very little attention paid to the why, the complex web of historical events that created ISIS, which is obviously more difficult to digest and post about.

In our social media age, we demonstrate empathy in the easiest way possible -- a few mouse clicks -- much like the knee-jerk dropping of a few coins into a peddler's can, without much reflection whether such act of sympathy would make a difference, as long as the gut-felt emotion is relieved. Facebook has made it easy to follow an empathy fad. A few clicks and one is instantly a member of an in-group. And by being a public participant of a social media hive mind, we show the world where we stand on issues, or at least where we want people to think we stand.

But do these social media fads preclude people from thinking more deeply about current events and issues, and thus make it easier to obscure one's role in the global community? Has it become easier to pick and choose sides without acknowledging personal accountability? In the case of the Paris attacks, is the showing of empathy via social media an individualized and thoughtful decision because it is all many can do for now, or is it simply a group-triggered, adrenalin-driven, desensitized quick fix?

If big media presented the public a fuller and more global scope of terrorist events in the past week, I wonder if we would see an equal expression of compassion for Beirut and Baghdad in social media. I wonder if Facebook would have included a Lebanese or Iraqi flag options. Or is this not ever to happen because the media itself is culpable for being a biased political machine? Who and what establishments influence global conversations? Is the media a mirror of what the public wants and asks for? Or is public opinion being driven by a well-oiled corporate media machine to advance its own agenda?

Gone are the days when the show of solidarity takes careful planning and thinking -- a march on the street for a cause to be part of a collective voice, or the thoughtful political consideration put into the creation of a political banner and public discourse. I belong to a pre-social media generation of people who read voraciously in order to understand how the world works around us. There is much to study about the crisis of terror that confronts our world. And there are many false prophets spouting information from their guts and not their brains.

ISIS is not going to disappear any time soon. It is a highly manipulative and financially powerful organized terrorist group that is taking advantage of the world's short-term memory, lack of historical insight, and our propensity toward biased quick fixes. We need a highly informed hive mind, one that questions and dissects media information handed upon us. We all have a role to play in defeating the global war of terror, but we need to understand its complexity and not submit to our base emotions because a social media outfit offers ephemeral relief.

Knowledge is our only weapon,