What’s Wrong with Facebook’s Paris DP Filter?


In the aftermath of the deadly terrorist attacks that hit Paris a week and a half ago, monuments around the world lit up in the colours of the French flag, heads of state gave inspiring speeches on the need to defend shared values, and Facebook launched a safety check option for those in Paris along with offering users an option to overlay the French flag on their profile picture to commemorate the victims.

This flag-filter immediately became popular. When I logged in to Facebook, almost every single post on my newsfeed was about a changed profile picture. But this small act of solidarity, in my opinion, is actually quite problematic.

It must be noted that none of these acts of homage were offered to Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, which was hit with twin suicide bombings just 24 hours before the Paris attack. ISIS also took responsibility for the act, which claimed the lives of 43 people and wounded hundreds.

This leads me to ask: how come this news did not motivate Facebook to allow the Safety Check option for the devastated citizens of Beirut? Or let its users add the colours of the Lebanese flag to their display pictures? I can’t help but point to the disparity in the response to the attacks in Beirut and Paris.

This is not a jab at those who stand in solidarity with France. I simply want to address a system that is built on an unspoken agreement that some lives have more value than others.

It is astonishing how Facebook, a company that works with governments around the world to coordinate social media surveillance, creates tools to selectively mourn tragedies. What does it mean when a program that helps people communicate during natural disasters is used to help victims in a predominantly white Western country, but completely ignore victims who undergo a similar tragedy in a predominantly Muslim, global south country? Of course, this goes beyond Facebook and a simple filter, and we must understand the gravity of this act.

There is a clear double standard when it comes to tragedies; mourning and solidarity are selective. We must be aware of the media’s Eurocentric bias and do our utmost to fight against it. Educate yourself and educate others, because that is truly the best way to help.

The coverage and support that Paris received is more than justified, and it is not the purpose of this article to detract from it. But it is essential to ask why we don’t do the same for Gaza, Baghdad, Peshawar, or Homs, when supposedly all lives matter.