Our reactions to terrorist attacks on social media are so predictable, it’s harmful
We have become part of the terror
We don’t even realise it, but we all do the same things when a terrorist attack takes place. We’ve become numb to the point where we’ve developed our own social media mourning ritual and it’s heartbreaking.
The news outlets will say the same things over and over again, with the same phrases, panicking people and creating mass hysteria with unconfirmed information.
You’re expected to express your feelings. You can’t stay silent, otherwise it will look like you don’t care. You have to make sure to include the #PrayFor hashtag in your black and white Instagram posts and check in when you’re nowhere near the scene of the attack. You retweet images of Tube signs to show that you’re not afraid, because you are defiant.
But could it be that our reactions to terrorist attacks are actually more damaging than we think and the lasting effect is a more frightened and divided society?
The UK has had a severe threat level from international terrorism for nearly three years and we’ve been warned countless of times that an attack is imminent. Yet we still flock to social media to see how everyone else is reacting and fuel irrelevant debates about the religion of the suspect and conspiracy theories. We sensationalise the situation and detract from the real victims of the terrorist attack.
This is the predictable play-by-play:
People share sensitive information in shock
We retweet live updates of the attack, video footage and graphic images in shock and horror. Perhaps we do this to feel like we can gain control of the situation or we try and spread awareness, but it’s best not to share sensitive information about an ongoing case.
Helicopter landing on Parliament Square with emergency services. pic.twitter.com/g3LqOwp6bR
— Jim Waterson (@jimwaterson) March 22, 2017
Graphic footage gets posted without respecting the victims
Some of us realise that we shouldn’t spread graphic footage of those injured in the attack out of respect and ask others not to either. We’re also reminded that in doing so, we’re doing the terrorists’ job of spreading terror and making people feel unsafe.
— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) March 22, 2017
Would you want to log on to social media to see a loved one hurt, in pain or worse? Don't share the pictures #Parliament
— Dan Walker (@mrdanwalker) March 22, 2017
The inevitable argument whether the attacker is a “Muslim” refugee or migrant will happen
It happens every single time. The police haven’t even confirmed any information and already all the closet racists will pop out blaming immigrants. You will see people discussing the refugee crisis and how we should limit our immigration or close our borders before they even catch the suspect.
— CentralFloridaNews (@FightingCrimeFL) March 22, 2017
At least we have the other side of Twitter, which rightly asks you to wait until we have any concrete information about the suspect or the motive.
— Daniel Falconer (@DanielJFalconer) March 22, 2017
We draw the story away from the victims
Everyone wants to know who the suspect is, yet we don’t nearly spend enough time thinking about the true victims of the tragedy.
"A car drove into pedestrians on Westminster bridge"
Yep, definitely a Muslim terrorist. #shooting UK parliament
— Don Vibes ? (@DelDiablo007) March 22, 2017
Told not to leave office building in Westminster due to parliament shooting. Hoping to God suspect isn't muslim
— Rama (@Ramamoosh) March 22, 2017
The suspect is a home-grown terrorist, so people start blaming a religion
It’s always someone who was radicalised at home and those that were using the refugee/migrant argument before, will resort to blaming Islam, a religion practiced by over a billion people in the world.
Westminster killer born Adrian Elms and had become a criminal at age 18 – before he became a Muslim https://t.co/TBIBIk1EgK
— Julia Macfarlane (@juliamacfarlane) March 23, 2017
Some people love to remind you that there are much worse things happening all over the world daily
People love lecturing others on their bias. “You’re not allowed to feel like this because Americans just bombed a school in Syria and you’re upset over four people that died in Westminster.” Because we can’t we be upset about both, right?
Yesterday two people got killed in London and it's all over the news, yet a SCHOOL was bombed in Syria and it's like nothing happened there?
— shan (@shaniawright_) March 23, 2017
People nowhere near the attack will mark themselves as “safe”
Fair enough if you were near the area or someone was worried about you, but do you really have to mark yourself safe when you’re in the depths of Kent? Because that’s disrespectful.
If you weren't in london/near parliament yesterday don't mark yourself as safe on facebook. Total disrespect for those injured
— Will (@william_pp) March 23, 2017
There’s a always profile filter or viral image that goes round, but equally people kick off when there’s not one instead of focusing on what actually happened
People seriously get annoyed at the fact that there may not be a Facebook filter and it’s just not what we should be focusing on.
Has Facebook made a profile pic filter for London? ?
— David (@DS_1811) March 22, 2017
Can't wait to put my London filter on my Facebook profile picture
— USM Sean Griffin (@TheGriff91) March 22, 2017
Which Facebook filter should I use to help London??
— Yellen's Fucktoy (@Fedslut) March 22, 2017
National media channels will create mass hysteria with no information
Broadcasters can fuck up. Hell, they will even tell you the wrong name of the suspect because they actually know nothing more than anyone else. Don’t get me wrong, these news are important and must be reported, but I can’t help but think that we’re creating mass hysteria, in which the extremists revel in.
— Chris Stokel-Walker (@stokel) March 22, 2017
National newspapers can also come up with horrendous front covers
They capitalise on terrorism by making sensationalist headlines and selling newspapers. They get a lot of stick for it and rightly so.
Today's Daily Mail headline and Google's response pic.twitter.com/hRJx0iti0Y
— Jason Spacey (@Jason_Spacey) March 24, 2017
Thankfully, most tweet about unity and defiance
There are those that call for unity against the threat of global terrorism through education, love and tolerance. They understand that hatred cannot be fought with more hatred.
— Phil Baty (@Phil_Baty) March 23, 2017
Not even batting an eye is the most effective response to terrorism https://t.co/X3fCghaspF
— Doug Saunders (@DougSaunders) March 22, 2017
Londoners will never be cowed by terrorism. pic.twitter.com/LTLhgZ7OLQ
— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) March 22, 2017
Xenophobic politicians and leaders will use the event to fuel their bigotry
The likes of Tommy Robinson will stand outside the crime scene and speak about uncontrolled immigration and the dangers of radical Islam. Instead of paying respects to those people that just lost their lives, they use a horrific terrorist attack as an excuse to further their own agendas. It’s as though they fail to understand that xenophobia leads to people feeling out of place in society, thus making them more prone to being radicalised and joining a terrorist group.
Far-right proselytiser Tommy Robinson is somehow down at Westminster with another far-right activist: pic.twitter.com/N83sOTh77e
— Alex MacDonald (@AlexJayMac) March 22, 2017
We already have a problem with home grown terrorism. Why on earth would you add to it by bringing people in? pic.twitter.com/5GurUzpXc3
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) March 23, 2017
People like Katie Hopkins use terrorism to stay relevant
Celebrities who made their careers out of being hateful love being in the centre of attention when terrorist attacks happen. Their “I told you so attitude” doesn’t seem to shock anyone anymore.
Londoners cannot be honest about these attacks. Because it would mean everything they believed in was false. pic.twitter.com/fy4m4dIsP5
— Katie Hopkins (@KTHopkins) March 23, 2017
Conspiracy theorists make inappropriate conclusions from images
They will take a photograph like the one below and completely take it out of context. Apparently this hijabi woman walked past the injured person because her religion tells her to turn a blind eye to the attack. People will do anything to fit a twisted narrative they want to believe in.
— Texas Lone Star (@SouthLoneStar) March 22, 2017
And then a few months later, repeat the above
It’s a horrible thought, but terrorist attacks are common and these things will happen all over again.
People use social media as a way of showing solidarity with those affected by this terrible terrorist act and no one must underplay what happened. However, there is a problem in the way the media covers terrorist attacks today and in turn, how we react to the news on social media.
There is an over saturation of information, with the added clutter of politics and religion, which plays straight into the hands of terrorism and leaves everyone else terrified and confused. It shows how divided our society is. The media capitalises on tragedies, creates harmful generalisations of minorities, instead of focusing on the victims and we feed into it.