Late on Friday 13th, Paris suffered seven coordinated terrorist attacks. 129 people lost their lives. President François Hollande declared a state of emergency in the whole of France and shut down the Paris Underground.
A wave of condolences fused around the world, from the Queen of Great Britain, to political leaders worldwide. Facebook was also included, since it activated its Safety Check feature for the first time during a terrorist attack.
The Safety Check feature was launched on October 16 last year in Japan. At the time, Mark Zuckerberg wrote on the following message on his Facebook wall:
“Safety Check is our way of helping our community during natural disasters and it gives you and easy and simple way to say you’re safe and check on all your friends and family in one place.”
The tool had noble intentions at its beginning, but it has now had every accusation hurled at it, mainly that it discriminates against victims, making some victims worthier than others.
Lebanese graduate Joey Ayoub wrote on Global Voices Online,
“These have been two horrible nights of violence. The first took the lives of over 40 people in Beirut; the second took the lives of over 120 people and counting in Paris. It also seems clear to me that to the world, my people’s deaths in Beirut do not matter as much as my other people’s deaths in Paris. We do not get a “safe” button on Facebook.”
That word again – a “safe” button. By Sunday, the attacks at Garissa University in Kenya, which occurred in April, were trending on social media networks, throwing doubt in the user’s mind that another attack may have occurred at the university. But no, the retweet of the news of terrorist attack at the university, which killed 147 people, was to protest against that “discrimination.”
From then on many people on social media networks, especially Facebook, sought to explain why they wouldn’t drape themselves in the French flag. Or ridiculed those who chose to do so.
Today, Mark Zuckerberg brought out a statement in which he agreed with his company detractors that yes, “there are many other important conflicts in the world.” He went on to add that his company cared “about all people equally, and we will work hard to help people suffering in as many of these situations as we can.”
However, Alex Schultz, Facebook vice president for growth, responded to the accusations in these words Saturday:
“There has to be a first time for trying something new, even in complex and sensitive times, and for us that was Paris.”
Notwithstanding these statements, the protests had seemed like a competition in deciding who was suffering more, or whether the French even deserved to be suffering. Some went even as far as insinuating that the French deserved the attacks. Articles on France’s foreign policies around the world began circulating on the internet as proof almost that France only got its dues.
And yet, the people who lost their lives or got injured in those attacks weren’t just French. But even if they were, have these protests shown us something else that is worse than the bombs of the terrorists?