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It’s a hashtag world of sentiment

It’s a hashtag world of sentiment

by Barbara Lilley | June 01, 2017

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When did we, as a society, decide that the appearance of caring for others was more important than actually caring for them?

With last week’s bombing in Manchester, social media went crazy again with people tweeting and updating their profiles to show support for the victims of the terrorist attack.

But do these public displays actually help anyone? Or do we update our status, and then sit back, satisfied that we have done all that we can do to help?

If we really want to help those in need, shouldn’t we be doing more than just offering up platitudes and hashtags?

It seems as though we live in a world where we want to live as comfortably as we can, without having to give too much of ourselves. It is easier to say, “I’ll pray for you,” than to actually take the time and pray for someone.

Three years ago, 276 girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram, in Nigeria. Facebook and Twitter users started a social media campaign called, “Bring Back Our Girls”. The crusade gathered momentum, as people around the world, joined together to denounce the abduction of the young women.

But did it do any good for the victims? Did the perpetrators return the girls after seeing the hashtags and the pictures of celebrities holding signs? Did any single criminal look at the picture of Michelle Obama holding her own, “Bring Back Our Girls” placard and have a change of heart?

The answer, of course, is no.

The same outpouring of support comes after every terror attack that hits the airways. Paris, Berlin, London, Manchester – the list seems to grow day by day. And so does what, increasingly, feels like fake sympathy.

I am not suggesting that people don’t feel bad, or are not horrified after hearing about another strike against the Western world, in which innocent people are hurt or killed. But how does updating my Facebook status help anyone deal with the aftermath of terror? Shouldn’t I be donating money? My time? Shouldn’t we all be doing that? And too often, it seems, immediately following the declaration of support and offer of prayers, the next post is not about doing anything to help, but yet another selfie, or a picture of a cute baby, or one more round of cat memes.

We applaud the ability to communicate with someone on the other side of the world instantaneously, yet we retreat into our safe houses. We wring our hands and moan about how terrible it is that we can’t all just love one another, and accept everyone, regardless of sex, age, religious or political beliefs. We post meme after meme, hashtag ourselves ad nauseam, and still do nothing to change anything.

While we boost our egos and pat ourselves on the back for having “done” something by joining the crowd, girls are still being kidnapped, terrorists are still planning the destruction of the West, and our sense of hopelessness continues to grow. We feel like we are fighting a losing battle.

And maybe that is why we continue to flood Facebook and Twitter with our hashtags and prayers. Banding together in social media solidarity makes us feel as though we are not alone in the fight against evil. That our combined efforts will one day change the world for the better, and evil will be vanquished for good. 

Barbara Lilley writes from Ottawa, Canada.

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