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Social media: youth’s voice of resistance in the Paris attacks of 13/10/2015

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Paris, 13th November 2015, 21:15, explosions are heard near the Stade de France, marking the beginning of a cold-hearted, barbarous terrorist attack.

At that same moment, I’m laying on the couch with my brother, laughing at some stupid joke he just made, as both our phones suddenly vibrate to push-notifications from the news app.

21:15: “ Explosions heard near the Stade de France”

21:20: “Shots fired at the Carillon and Le petit Cambodge, 10th arrondissement”

21:36: “More shootings on rue de Charonne”

21:45: “Shots heard in the Bataclan, hostage situation underway”

My mind runs through various emotions at once: shock, panic, confusion, horror, fear, anger. As the flow of information comes in, my incomprehension and powerlessness at the situation only rises. I look up to my brother: “What. The. Hell. Is. Happening.”

The next morning, I wake up after a few hours of agitated sleep. I’m lying in bed, under my cover, looking at the roof with an empty feeling in my stomach. I had spent most of the night contacting my friends and family in Paris, making sure everyone was safe, yet here I was, powerless. I could imagine all those people out there, in Paris, in France, across the world, sharing this same empty feeling, yet outrage to Terrorism. How do we react to such cruelty? How can we fight against this? How do we face and manage our anger?

I grabbed my phone and opened the Facebook app to have a look at the latest reactions on the recent events. As I scrawled down my homepage, I realized the significant role social media had and will have in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. As young people, also referred to as the Y generation, we had a voice and were going to make it heard, using what we are known to use so well: social media.

The first crucial role social media played in the Paris attacks reaction was one of mobilization and information sharing. As the attacks were taking place, and panic grew in the streets of Paris, many young inhabitants decided to create a hashtag #PorteOuverte (“open door”) on Twitter, to provide shelter to those trapped in the capital.

The mobilization continued on other social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, with the use of hashtags such as #PrayforParis or #Parisattacks. Through this instant mobilization, the concerned young generation created enough awareness for Facebook itself to activate and deploy the Safety Check campaign!

According to the Financial Times, “It was the first instance where the feature, previously reserved for natural disasters, was used for human-caused calamity.”

This proves how powerful and crucial a role the voice and mobilization of youngsters through social media played in information sharing while the attacks were taking place in the French capital.

As the terrorist shootings faded and tragedy came to an end, social media sites rapidly transformed from informational platforms to ones of emotional appeal. The trauma from the aftermath was a very emotional one for all French citizens and partisans and this was highly reflected in social media use all over the world.

As young people shared the now famous drawing of the Eiffel tower in a peace sign on their Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or even Tumblr accounts, others shared their shock with pictures and openhearted letters against terrorism.

“Paris is my home and I cannot just live by without showing my outrage, and social media allows me to share this with other Parisians who, like me, are horrified by what just happened”, explains Lola, a 17-year-old girl living in Paris.

Indeed, in the mourning days following the attack social media users replaced their words with symbolic pictures of the aftermath as survivors or victim relatives shared their testimony. The young generation’s mourning was a very powerful, tragic one, symbolic enough for the Facebook website to create a profile picture filter with the French flag on it – once again a first in the history of social media, and Facebook.

In the days and weeks following the attacks, the French media engaged in a political war against terrorism, as the French President declared the ‘State of Emergency’. This political war was also fought by the young generation, and their voice was heard on social media.

There were for instance very strong reactions on the Twitter and Facebook posts of the conservative party ‘Front National’, as the party exploited the recent events to reassert racial tensions and immigration issues. From what I observed, the reactions were for a significant part mocking the party’s propaganda. Julien, a 21-year-old French student, explained that “the best way for us young generation to respond to such propaganda is to tear it down and make fun of it. We are not going to just read and absorb the information: we grew up in this mediated world, we are not naïve. We ridicule those ideas and even better: we make it viral!”.

Comic relief was also a significant part of the youth’s reactions in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. This was most specifically the case as the investigation on the attacks unfolded and Jawad, the terrorists’ host in St Denis became the laughing stock of social media. After such a trauma, I found it incredible to see how all young French people took part in the satiric portrayal of this man. Friends from completely different backgrounds and cities were all liking and sharing the same posts, pictures and memes. That’s when I realized that in some way, social media had painted a picture of the youth’s voice, reaction and trauma for everyone to see, be part of and identify to.

The way I see it, social media was and still is an open-hearted diary of the French youth’s resistance on the Paris attacks. Terrorists hit the social media generation and the response they received was a powerful one: involving mobilization, emotions and laughter, which created awareness worldwide and unity from the inside.

 

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