Social Media Helps and Hinders During Paris Attacks (video)

By Siraj Hashmi

Amid the barbarous violence that engulfed Paris on Friday night, both the city's residents and the world looked for ways to navigate the chaos and confusion.
Many Parisians, however, were able to turn to a seemingly trivial source for help and solace: social media.

As the horror of the night unfolded, Twitter and Facebook offered outlets to express condolences and help find and confirm safety.

Sympathy for the victims of the attack quickly reverberated as the "#PrayForParis" hashtag spread across Twitter. The hashtag reached a peak of 17,000 Tweets per minute by 6:28 p.m. ET, according to a Twitter spokesperson.

But the platform played more than an emotional support role.

The "#PorteOuverte" , French for "open door", was tweeted over 1 million times over the course of the night, enabling Parisians fleeing the attackers to find shelter with residents who had opened their homes.

Facebook also added a digital security tool in the form of Safety Check, which allows users to confirm that they were out of harm's way.

Prior to Friday night, Safety check had only been activated during natural disasters.

"Facebook became a place where people were sharing information and looking to understand the condition of their loved ones," Alex Schultz, Facebook's Vice President of Growth, wrote in , French for "open door", was tweeted over 1 million times over the course of the night, enabling Parisians fleeing the attackers to find shelter with residents who had opened their homes.

Facebook also added a digital security tool in the form of Safety Check, which allows users to confirm that they were out of harm's way.

Prior to Friday night, Safety check had only been activated during natural disasters.

"Facebook became a place where people were sharing information and looking to understand the condition of their loved ones," Alex Schultz, Facebook's Vice President of Growth, wrote in a blog post. "There has to be a first time for trying something new, even in complex sensitive times, and for us that was Paris."

Though many expressed appreciation for the feature, the company was criticized for not implementing its use during other recent terrorist attacks in places like Lebanon and Kenya.

Nearly 4 million users confirmed their condition using Safety Check, highlighting the ubiquity of the platform and its role as a medium for information.

But while the majority of digital activity was well-intended and productive, the fickle beast of social media could not help but show its underbelly.

Over the course of the weekend, a number of misleading images and stories were circulated online.

Some instances were relatively innocuous, such as the mislabeling of pictures reported to show the Bataclan concert venue and French solidarity marches.

Others were more sinister.

Spanish newspaper La Razon posted a photo-shopped image of Twitter user Veerender Jubbal, a Canadian journalist and video game critic who happens to be Sikh, so that he appeared to be wrapped in a suicide bomb vest and holding a Quran. The Madrid-based publication included the caption "one of the terrorists" with the photo.

Jubbal responded quickly by posting the original picture, a selfie taken in a plaid shirt, and was largely able to clear his name.

"Let us start with basics," he tweeted "Never been to Paris. Am a Sikh dude with a turban. Lives in Canada."

Several other false stories, including Uber taking advantage of the panic by enabling surge prices, received their share of circulation before being refuted

But the speed and reach with which the stories spread make it clear that in times of crisis, social media is a double-edged sword that must be wielded with caution.

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