Written by 2110 Gayeong Kim
#BlackLivesMatter. #AllLivesMatter. #LoveIsLove. #OrlandoShootings #SewolFerry
#PrayForParis. #PrayForTurkey. #PrayForJakarta.
Being a 17-year-old in the 21st Century sure is an extraordinary experience. It almost feels like having the world at the touch of a screen — quite literally. When I unlock my phone, here the things I see: Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, KakaoTalk, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram. Through those apps, I get all of my daily updates from both my friends and also from the world. Tap the clock app on my phone and you’ll see several clocks set for several different countries — San Juan, Chicago, London, Dublin, Copenhagen, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Tokyo. All of those clocks are set for my friends and loved ones.
In this digital era, the speed in which information spreads has become a rather blue streak. Now, more than ever, people can access and view information freely. Reading the times via newspapers has become old news. Why read bulky newspapers when you can tap a little blue app and get all the world’s recent occurrences in the form of a cute and convenient hashtag?
From my experience with social media, Twitter by thus far is the most live and interactive social media when regarding updates on current issues. And unlike many other social media, twitter is full of legitimate sources of information which draws even more attention and audiences from all around the world. So in short, Twitter is a much underrated source of media, downplayed by all the “celebrity funny tweets” memes and ignorant politician tweets — we all know who that is. (Yes, Donald Trump, I am talking about you.)
I remember when Jakarta was attacked by a group of ISIS terrorist. It certainly wasn't a huge phenomenon as the Paris attacks but definitely enough to get #PrayForJakarta as the number-one trending hashtag on Twitter for a couple of days. From past encounters, I had friends from Jakarta so I asked them if they were okay by messaging them. They told me that they were fine and they mentioned something interesting.
When the attack occurred and after CNN officially reported it, Facebook had apparently sent all the Facebook users that were known to reside in Jakarta an alert, inquiring their safety. My friends and I talked about how social media has really developed for the better. Then later, I was scrolling through Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page and I saw that he had released a notice saying that they have added this new “Safety Check” feature ever since the Paris attacks. Feeling remorseful that this feature had to exist in the first place, I mindlessly scrolled down the comments, expecting to find words of encouragements or vague hate comments because this is the internet and there’s always some kind of hate for everything.
There, on the top of the page, was one comment with most likes and it was barely a sentence long.
“Who would check their Facebook during a major terrorist attack? lol.”
My initial instinct was to call it a hater and just brush it off. But the more I thought about it, the more it kind of made sense. I mean, if you were actually in a situation of mortal peril, you probably wouldn't be able to check Facebook, not that the effort from the social media titan isn’t appreciated.
Same goes for all the people posting #PrayForJakarta tweets and uploading pictures on Instagram with #PrayForJakarta with a cool edit. Same for those with a filter of the flag of Paris on their profile picture. (I’m guilty of doing all of the above, by the way.) As much as the effort is really appreciated and it is an undeniable truth that these efforts raise awareness and help in the long run.
But do they really compensate for all the loss that people have went through these tragic events?
Which brings me to my point: in the digital era we live in today, the seriousness of the event and the effort it takes to actually empathise is downsized into a form of a hashtag. For the most part, it’s just another headline. Just another tragedy. Just another hashtag.
Compassion is not something that you can achieve by posting a #PrayFor tweet. Compassion is something much more difficult to achieve — even the wisest men have endeavoured and failed to achieve complete and genuine compassion. Now, I feel like everyone is taking it for granted.
When Rihanna’s new album “ANTI” dropped, I decided to go follow her on Instagram. And listening to one of her songs, I just could not help myself from creeping on all her old posts. How could I not with the lyrics telling me to “stay off of my Instagram, pure temptation.”
Well, what I found was by all means provocative but not exactly in a sexual manner. It was intriguing, at most. It was a video that featured a black woman who definitely wasn’t Rihanna and she was talking about the feud over the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter versus #AllLivesMatter. My initial reaction to this feud before watching this video was: why fight? Why are people getting mad over a hashtag? And I thought it was because of the term. Maybe they didn’t like that the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter only portrayed an isolated sector of the rather diverse group of social minorities.
Well, it wasn’t that.
Quoting the woman from the video whom I regrettably have failed to find the identity of, “it doesn't matter. #BlackLivesMatter, #AllLivesMatter, whatever. It’s all just gonna be another hashtag to y’all. A man died today. A man — a father of two children and the husband of one woman who loved him dearly — he just died. Just because he refused to be arrested for a crime that he did not commit. You know what none of this matters because whatever it may be, it’s just gonna be another hashtag. He ain’t a hashtag. She ain’t a hashtag. I ain’t a hashtag. You are not a hashtag.”
Watching the video, for all intents and purposes, struck a cord in me. I now knew why there was that tugging sense of guilt posting all those tweets, Facebook posts, and tumblr text posts about “how tragic the event is” and “how we will never forget.” Yeah, I had lied to myself. Because I was going to forget eventually.
But the question is, were they going to forget? Probably not.
And I’m not saying that the human race should feel guilty and ashamed of ourselves because we failed to empathise to a personal level and moved on. That’s human nature. How would we get on with everyday life if we didn't have this tendency to forget? Terrible things happen on a daily basis and if we spent everyday mourning over every single occurrence, we would not be able to function properly.
I’m guilty of doing the same. I don’t think I’ve felt true compassion for the minorities until I became a minority myself. I knew then what it felt like to have to bear a burden, to feel like it’s me against the world, to have to bury a secret deep down in fear of the society’s disapproval. It’s just human nature, I presume, to not be able to truly “feel” until it is “mine.”
But I think the best thing we can do is at least remember and remind ourselves every time something starts trending on twitter, that it is not just a hashtag. That it’s actual people behind those blue rounded letters.
#WeAreNotAHashtag. Now, how’s that for a hashtag? Think before you answer.