When Facebook introduced the rainbow filter to celebrate gay pride and same-sex marriage, many Ugandans and Africans alike scoffed at the idea. The social network they have grown to love and wake up to every morning was taking a position – and one which is not popular in the region. Anyway, they only cared less and the rainbow-decorated profile pictures soon faded away from their timelines.
Fast forward, over the weekend, Paris was buried beneath a dark cloud of smoke. A reported eight radical terrorists had blown bombs and fired live ammunition at crowds of people who were peacefully going about doing the things that made them happy. Now, over 130 people are dead, 99 critically injured and over 300 injured. And, again, Facebook timelines were covered in profile pictures with filters.
The social-networking giant had quickly rolled an update that allowed users the world over to add a French flag filter to show support and solidarity. One would be forgiven to think that, thanks to Islamic State fighters, Paris was the epicentre of suffering and murder.
And who’s raising awareness and creating a monopoly on sympathy? Facebook.
While we shouldn’t discount regard for human life, we should not forget the other attacks in other parts of the world: Burundi is sliding into a genocide, over 10 people are being killed every night, and nobody seems to care, or at the very least want to say a prayer. Boko Haram is the cause of mysterious abductions and untold suffering to ordinary people in Nigeria. Terrorists, last week, bombed Beirut and over 40 were killed; Kamikazes have blown Russian planes in Egypt and Sudan.
And who’s raising awareness and creating a monopoly on sympathy? Facebook. For it, Paris mattered the most. That is why the French flag filter and the safety check feature, meant for natural disasters, were rolled out almost immediately.
Research has proved of Facebook’s rigor and capability of manipulating emotion and sentiment using its complex newsfeed algorithms. Facebook wields so much power as a global media platform that a slight bias or favour on the timeline has the potential of influencing decisions and sentiment of over a billion daily users. Suddenly, red, white and blue-filtered profile pictures floated atop people’s timelines; the big blue influence was in full force. I am certain more people without the slightest idea of what had transpired in France were quick to jump on to the trend, changing their profile pictures in solidarity.
Facebook tells us which cause we should commiserate with. Not Beirut, not Bagdad, not Bujumbura and other places engrossed in terror and conflict, but Paris.
Again, the right to life is unquestionably inalienable. We commiserate with the bereaved families and friends. But we all have causes closer and more dear to us, and influential platforms and social networks like Facebook should be at the fore of enabling different people show compassion for what they truly care about. Instead, they abuse this privilege as supremacists painted in deep blue acting as arbiters and telling us which cause we should commiserate with. Not Beirut, not Bagdad, not Bujumbura and other places engrossed in terror and conflict, but Paris.
Facebook, at the moment, doesn’t support user-generated filters. Those who wanted to had to edit pictures of causes they cared about manually and tediously, compared to the dead simple one-click-button process needed to overlay the French flag filter.
I am deranged at Facebook for wielding its power in choosing for us which cause we should belong to or side with. Clearly we have different causes at heart. People are dying all over the world; let us mourn them all.