This weekly column will cover a variety of contemporary global issues including climate action, global health, international peace and security and gender equality. I hope that this column will act as a platform to advocate for global progress and to empower young leaders to get involved in international affairs.
If there are certain global issues that you want to see covered in this column, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the night of Oct. 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire on concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival from his hotel room on the Las Vegas Strip.
Within a span of 10 minutes, hundreds of rounds had been fired, leaving nearly 60 people dead and hundreds more injured. The incident has reignited the debate around gun control and gun violence, with highly opinionated voices on both sides.
Reports on potential legislation changes and op-eds from gun control supporters and opponents have consumed social media in the shooting’s wake.
The Las Vegas shooting rekindled another major controversy that has received significantly less media attention – the use of hashtags when tragedy strikes.
To some people, hashtags such as #PrayForVegas are a way to express their grief over the tragedy and to show their support for the victims.
When the offices of the French satirical weekly newspaper “Charlie Hebdo” were bombed in 2015, people stood in solidarity with the victims, sharing #JeSuisCharlie (“I am Charlie”).
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, people shared pictures and videos of the resulting devastation and asked others to #PrayForTexas.
Social media is an incredibly powerful tool that allows us to instantly connect with billions of people all around the world. For many people, this relationship-building tool allows them to connect with people they wouldn’t normally engage with and to share their empathy.
For other people, tweeting one’s condolences and asking others to #PrayForVegas seems worthless. Some argue that these “empathy hashtags” do very little to help the cause because they are rarely inclusive of all major tragedies occurring around the world.
Nov. 13, 2015, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks on restaurants, bars and a major stadium in Paris left 130 people dead and hundreds wounded. People worldwide united around #PrayForParis and updated their Facebook profile pictures with a French flag filter.
Social media seemed to share in the pain of Paris as the nation suffered the blow of another tragedy.
But when Turkey suffered three horrific terrorist attacks by the Islamic State group the following year, the fatal incidents received significantly less international media attention.
There were no special Facebook profile picture filters. #PrayForTurkey struggled to gain international attraction on social media, whereas #PrayForParis skyrocketed to over 3 million shares on Instagram alone.
While famous monuments in major Western cities lit up with the colors red, white and blue for the French flag, only a handful of countries paid tribute to the attacks in Turkey by lighting up buildings in the Turkish flag colors.
People who stand against the use of “empathy hashtags” argue that people pick and choose which tragedies will receive a worldwide outpouring of love and support via social media. When citizens of Western nations thought about the victims of the Paris attacks, they envisioned their families, their friends, their neighbors and most importantly, themselves.
As Western citizens, they could easily identify and empathize with France, a fellow Western nation.
But what about all of the other places around the world that experience the same amount of horrific violence? Where are the hashtags for these conflicts?
The opponents of #PrayFor posts acknowledge that these hashtags have the potential to help bring awareness to global issues. The issue is that the social media campaigns mainly focus on countries that already make it into the news, and the news only likes to focus on one thing at a time. Opponents argue that we should be sending our thoughts to people across the globe who suffer from a lack of human rights daily.
No matter where you stand on the use of hashtags following tragedies, remember to stay educated and informed on what is going on around the world. Seek out reliable news information and share it with friends and family. As a society, we must grieve tragedies, and then we must prepare to fight.