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​Facebook Solidarity: One Click Humanitarianism Is Not the Answer

Last fall, with Facebook’s encouragement, my wall turned blue, red, and white in an effort of solidarity. If Facebook’s goal in creating this filter was simply to convince users to change their profile pictures, then Mark Zuckerberg and company succeeded. But why do we aim for a goal that is so easy to fulfill? The attacks in Paris were a tragedy—they were attacks against all of humanity. They deserve more.

The new Facebook filters that began last summer with “rainbowfication” in support of the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage achieve much less than it appears. In this age of social media and extensive online networks, we must not confuse simple reaction with sustained and impactful action. Changing our profile pictures is not the answer to global problems like terrorism, rampant militarism, violence, poverty, and war. One click humanitarism is not the answer to what happened in Paris.

My critique of the filters centers on two main points. The first surrounds the bias these filters project. Why did Facebook endorse a filter for Paris, but not for Syria or Beirut? Why did we only start to care when the attack was on people who look or think like us? By creating only a few choice filters—and encouraging them with the “Try It” button—Facebook does not allow for nuanced political statements. This is a mistake because our world is complex and mutli-layered, and its beauty comes from its diversity—this is a point central to Facebook’s identity in the first place. After all, Facebook has always been a champion of self-expression, promoting diversity by giving voices and choice to those who previously did not have them. It shouldn’t stop now.

Second, the filters are deceiving. Over the same weekend of the Paris attacks, I attended the 15th World Summit for Nobel Peace Laureates in Barcelona. In light of the attack, I felt honored to be in the company of such inspiring people. But the message of the Summit rang clear: What separated me from the people on the stage, me from the laureates, was that they had taken action to solve the world’s problems. They had not just pondered them or called out the injustices they saw; they actively worked to eliminate those injustices.

At a panel on Women and Democracy in the general plenary, 1997 laureate Jody Williams stated this very inconvenient truth: “Words without action are freaking irrelevant.” The impact of her truth applies greatly to my argument here: Changing our profile pictures without doing more has little worth.

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Facebook filters not only filter our profile pictures, they mask out our anger, passion, frustration, and energy into a single simplistic reaction rather than a sustained or impactful response. Once we click it, we feel absolved of our humanitarian responsibilities, and often become unmotivated to do more. One click humanitarianism makes us feel better, but in this way it does not solve our greater problems. Our generation needs to learn from our Kony 2012 mistakes — we can’t just stop here.

This is not meant to be a critique of Facebook without solutions. Facebook should be proud that it is such an influential part of modern life—that it cares about social progress and justice.

But I am still calling on Facebook to use its tools and its potential to do more, to do better. Facebook has 1.55 billion active monthly users! Allow public debates to occur on a single page or through the use of a hashtag in order to influence policy makers and government officials. Give users the options for their statuses to be given to politicians in place of traditional letter writing campaigns. Direct users through ads not to shopping sites, but to sites where they can learn more about the facts, where they can get involved in change. These are things Facebook can do.

Finally, Facebook says that this was in an effort of solidarity. But solidarity does not mean that our responses must all look the same—especially if these responses do not go the distance. We can each help in our own way and stand up on our own two feet. Solidarity means we stand behind the dignity and respect of the people in our world—that we strive for the protection of all humanity. It is time we truly act in solidarity.

Kate Hoffman ’17 is a Social Studies concentrator living in Pforzheimer House.

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