Why I changed my profile picture to the French flag and why you should too

Decrying those who changed their profile picture to a French flag is lazy, lacking in empathy and at worst another form of the very ‘slacktivism’ you are criticising.

attacks paris

In the aftermath of the shocking atrocities last week in Paris, it has been hard for all of us to process it.

The images of bloodstained cobbled streets, the harrowing footage of screaming Parisians; the deep sense of unease that, perhaps, Europe will never be the same again.

We will all have mourned in different ways. Some have made eloquent posts on social media; some  have been to rallies and vigils. So far, so good. But there is one gesture that is apparently beyond the pale; some have had the temerity to filter our Facebook profile picture with a French flag.

Labour placard + tricolore = tacky online activist, selon many a status.

Me and my tricolor-stained profile pic being ‘disingenuous’.

A seemingly innocuous act? Not so, apparently. According to one recent Tab article, my decision to change my profile picture was ‘disingenuous’ and a form of what has come to be known as ‘slacktivism’. My profile picture, which the author dismisses as ‘dotted among your previous posts tagging girls for free drinks’, amounted to nothing more than me wanting the world to know I care and, as such, I was mourning ‘wrong.’

Well, thanks for the input Mr, but let’s clear a few things up.

First and foremost, changing your profile picture and doing ‘real’ social action as you suggest are not mutually exclusive; the world isn’t divided between those who care in the ‘right’ way and the ‘wrong’ way. We all, I’d like to think, care to some degree – the difference is that while you want to regulate the ways that I mourn, I don’t.

Moreover, the assumption that those who decry ‘slacktivism’ amounts to a tokenistic gesture on social media lacks meaning. The accusation is they don’t ‘do’ anything and, even worse, they only do it to make themselves feel good and make everyone else think that they’re a good guy.

This is what slacktivism looks like.

This is what a slacktivist looks like.

This is fundamentally wrong. In the first case, social media does matter. I’m not saying that changing my profile picture will heal the deep wounds caused by the shootings, but solidarity and empathy do matter. We live in a globalised world in which social media actually can help shape public opinion and form a powerful sphere of influence.

Don’t believe me? Fine, have a look at this and this.

And while we’re at it, isn’t shouting online about ‘slactivism’ yet another form of the very thing you’re purporting to hate? How does writing an article attacking a profile picture contribute to the process of mourning? We run the risk of taking a serious issue about global society, and reducing it to a pitiful debate about how to ‘be a good person on Facebook.’

In short, changing your profile picture obviously isn’t the only way you should be showing that you care. But it’s a start, and the cynics who snipe that you aren’t doing it ‘properly’ are engaging in a lazy form of the very ‘slacktivism’ that they hate oh so very much.

About to take the mic and drop it.

An anti-contraception religious fanatic trying to look sweet and harmless.

And one more thing; maybe it’s best not to end an argument in the shadow of religious fanaticism with a quote from Mother Theresa, the woman who did more than any other to deny contraception to a whole sub-continent because of her personal religious views. So maybe pick that mic back up?

Paris was a tragedy, and its shadow will cast itself over a generation. We must each be allowed our own grieving process, without being condescended to. If we mourn for an open and tolerant society, we must be allowed to defend it in our own way, without being shouted down for doing it ‘wrong.’

Vive La France.