Paris and the spectre of slacktivism

Society shouldn’t resign itself to emojis on a status update

paris attacks

I don’t think I speak solely for myself when I say that the events in Paris had a visceral impact on my weekend.

The images of quaint, Lady and the Tramp-esque cafés torn to shreds by bullet-holes, of khaki-clad soldiers patrolling under the Arc de Triumph, of wailing victims clambering desperately over corpses to escape a Friday night concert; those tend to stick in your head for a while.

But the dust hadn’t settled on the Parisian streets, the blood hadn’t dried on the floor of the Bataclan, before we all saw them; the hashtags, the status updates and the profile picture filters. #prayforparis dotted among your previous posts tagging girls for free drinks at Fez. The Tricolour staining a picture of you and the lads on your gap year. It seems more than a little disingenuous.

Vive la France. A memorial in Paris.

I can already hear the backlash that this article will receive; the same old arguments will be carted out as they are time and time again – ‘but every little helps’, ‘it spreads awareness’, ‘they want to know that we are there for them’.


What ‘they’ want is blood donations. What they want is money donated to the Red Cross or other emergency action charities. It might be nice for a victim of a suicide bombing to know that you are there for them in spirit, but what is even nicer is a hospital having enough blood for life-saving transfusions, or charities having enough volunteers to help families to find information in the chaos.

The National Gallery in London, lit up after the attacks, like your profile picture.

What ‘they’ want is not to have to hear the ‘we don’t all have money to donate’ rubbish. First, yes you do – or at least, you do if you are planning to buy drinks tonight or that new skirt for formal next weekend. Second, fine – let’s accept that you are on a student budget and wasting away unable to feed yourself; at least share the link to a charity instead or alongside that status update, at least spread practical awareness, so that others can more easily assist.

The fact is, sadly, many do not even consider such lines of argument. When faced with ‘what will actually help’ and ‘what can I get away with while looking like a caring person’, the latter is most often chosen. Often, the art of appearing to care is more appealing than actually caring. If you think this is unfounded, think back to the ‘no makeup selfies’ or the ‘ice-bucket challenge’ – I would bet a Trinity May Ball ticket that more than half of those who posted one of these videos or images ‘forgot’ to donate to charity.

The slacktivism sloth.

I accept that we must come together as a world to unite against the threat of terror and hatred, and I accept that a global effort to reach out to those in France is a way to achieve this. I admit, there is something incredibly heartening about the solidarity shared internationally, a beautiful coming together of classes and ethnicities and nations. Of course, money isn’t everything – of course it is encouraging to see support for victims of a tragedy.

The day after the attacks.

But we must be careful not to set a very dangerous precedent; when we as a society decide that putting a sad emoji on a Tinder biog caps the limit of what an individual can achieve, when we collectively settle for a hashtag or a status update, we resign ourselves to ignoring just how great our influence can be. There is in equal measure empowerment and resignation in ‘slacktivism’; we feel strong enough to make a stand in 140 characters, yet we stop there, somehow reconciling self-belief with a capitulation to ‘the powers that be’.

I refuse to accept that every single person who posts to social media is limited to this and only this. My hope is that for every changed profile picture, there is a donation of €10 to the French Red Cross; for each Dylan Thomas quote, there is a charity-sponsored candlelit vigil being organised. Because these acts of solidarity actually let the people of France (and, for that matter, the people of Beirut and Baghdad and all the areas impacted this week by terrorism) know that you are committed to the values that are under threat, and genuinely care about their lives. These do a damn sight more good than a red, white and blue cover photo.

About to take the mic and drop it.

I’ll allow Mother Theresa to drop the mic:

“We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.”

And it is up to us to decide how big that drop is.

To donate to the Red Cross:

To donate to the Secours Populaire Français: