Facebook’s French Flag Image Inspires Outrage Over Unequal Empathy

We may need to think twice before offering symbolic support

An approached offered by Facebook to support France

At 3:38 a.m. on November 14, after a series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris on the previous evening, Facebook added an overlay of the French flag on its profile picture. That action received about 310,000 shares. Charlotte Farhan, a French-British woman, made a post on Facebook on the same day getting nearly 10,000 likes, but for a different reason.

Many Facebook users, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, changed their profile photo overlays to represent their support for Paris after the attacks. People’s screens were filled with blue, red and white colors. Charlotte Farhan, in contrast, posted her explanations on why she refused to change her profile to the French flag.

“If I did this for only Paris this would be wrong,” said Farhan, the chief editor at Art Saves Lives International Magazine. “I felt that it would show that I was not inclusive with my sympathy.”

Farhan’s posting has generated public discussions on the behavior of Facebook and the people who added the French flag to their profile photos. Why wasn’t there flags for other countries that suffered from terrorism attacks in the past? In what way is changing one’s profile helpful to Paris?

“If someone asked you to participate in something meant to ease the pain and worry of a crisis, you would say yes,” said Molly McHugh, a senior editor at wire.com.

“It shows the sympathetic support from all over the world and it also shows that foreigners love France,” said Allan Shwartz, a citizen of Paris who has changed his photo to the French flag since the attack.

Stephen Friedland, a student at the University and Connecticut and columnist at The Daily Campus, wrote an article titled “Your symbolic support for Paris is meaningless;” a clear criticism of the “commemorative profile picture.”

Ahmed Oukid, an Algerian international, who now studies at Paris Descartes University, said she didn’t change her icon because she was “too lazy and not interested enough.”

“I think they are nice because they showed their pain in solidarity,” Oukid said.

Facebook allows people to set an expiration date for the French-flag-filter on their photos. Mark Zuckerberg changed his profile photo back to an unfiltered one two days later.

“We care about all people equally,” said Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook in response to people’s criticism against the Safety Check feature, which was not available when suicide bombings took place on November 12 in Beirut, Lebanon. “We will work hard to help people suffering in as many of these situations as we can.”

Zuckerberg didn’t comment on the issue raised by the flag filter.

The outrage has sparked some programmers and designers to create apps that help people change their icons into flags from other countries..

Tom Galle, a web development freelancer from Belgium, designed a filter to profile images featuring the flag of every country attacked by ISIS, including Syria, Iraq and many others.

Mark Zuckerberg’s photo with flags of several countries attacked by ISIS

“Show your support to all countries attacked by ISIS. Add all their flags to your Facebook profile photo.” The sentence lays under the image of Mark Zuckerberg covered by several layers of flags.

“We will learn a lot from feedback on this launch, and we’ll also continue to explore how we can help people show support for the things they care about through their Facebook profiles,” said Alex Schultz, Vice President of Growth of Facebook.

Various buildings and moments around the world have adopted colors of the French flag, including the London Eye, Shanghai Oriental Pearl TV Tower and One World Trade Center in New York City.

“I’d rather see efforts concentrated there (people getting educated and politically involved, although that might be futile too) than in ostentatious, somewhat pathetic displays,” Stephen Friedland said.

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