Internet can be essential for war on terror

On this past, particularly austere, Friday the 13th, global terror threat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant coordinated a series of four separate shootings and three different suicide bombings throughout the heart of Paris and in one of its suburbs. The attacks resulted in at least 129 fatalities, 352 injuries, a declared state of emergency and the closure of France’s borders. The terror attack, the deadliest in France since World War II, was deemed by French President Francois Hollande “an act of war” that he would avenge in a fight that “will be merciless.”

The War on Terror, even if it is not an explicitly American war on terror, has returned. But this time, the landscape is different. The American populace has seen behind the veil of the NSA and the looming threats of the security state, yet has also had to face the horror of radical jihad in real-time. Texts from hostages being kept within the Bataclan, the Parisian theater in which individuals were massacred by three terrorists -— resulting in 89 murders — were being reported by media outlets throughout the world. People who secured their safety in the city were able to check in as “safe” on Facebook. Parisians running through the streets posted updates to Twitter about where to go and where to avoid. Perhaps most inventively, Parisians were able to find safety in the homes of strangers by using #porteouverte on multiple social media channels. But this was not the new battleground that we found. These were ingenuities found in moments of mortal peril. The new turf that both the U.S. public and the enemy have found is as simple and potent as hashtags and filters.

During the attacks, ISIL wasted no time in claiming responsibility and celebrating the attacks on Twitter with an Arabic hashtag translating to “Paris burns.” Aside from the obvious insanity that these monsters could be celebrating the massacre of innocent civilians, there is the added insult that they used our own invention against us. Twitter is ours. It is a product of the democratic liberalism and celebration of free speech and expression that ISIL has so vehemently tried to decimate. ISIL hijacked our own invention.

We stepped up and fought fire with fire. We put French flag filters over our Facebook profile pictures. We Instagrammed photos of the Eiffel Tower. We cluttered our Twitter feed with #vivelefrance and #prayforParis. Despite many cultural critics claiming that these acts were either in vain, or even worse, purely vain attempts to appear sympathetic, we had to do these things. Hashtagging and posting was just as much to express our extreme sadness for the victims as it was to show ISIL that they can kill our people, but they will never kill our spirits. Certainly, we will never change our lives out of fear of men who blow themselves up for eternal salvation.

Just days after the attacks, Parisians still smoke Gauloises and drink carafes of wine outside of cafes. ISIL did not attack symbols of the government, like the Élysée Palace or Hôtel de Ville. They attacked a bar, a rock concert, a football game and a shopping center. They wanted to attack the vitality of liberal culture. They’re terrorists; they want us to retreat with fear.

Seventy million people posted dedications to Paris on Instagram within a day of the attacks. These posters included Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, conservatives, liberals, socialists, libertarians and everyone in between. Over 200 countries in total were represented because ISIL is not waging a war just against the West. It aims to attack and oppress people around the world who believe that individuals have a right to choose how to live their own lives. Those individuals can become, and many of them have become, a part of this fight through the equalizing power of the internet. Perhaps it is a small, effortless measure of solidarity against a global terror threat with an estimated $2 billion in funding, but those with access to social media have a moral obligation to show ISIL that they can’t hijack what belongs to liberalism and individualism, be it Twitter or simply a night out on the town.

Our countries have fought a war on terror before. It was long and arguably didn’t accomplish much. It may sound petty to say that “doing your part” includes changing Facebook profile pictures, but the battleground has changed. In the age of social media, people around the world are exposed to image after video after soundbyte of people fleeing bloodshed and running for their lives, all while these villains celebrated on our terrain. If ISIL wages war against the right to freely associate and enjoy oneself, and tries to use social media against those who created it, individualists have to do what we can to take it back. It may be a small act, but it also may be the weapon that we did not have last time.

1 reply
  1. Emma
    Emma says:

    s a French person, being currently in Paris, I would liek to add my 2 cents to this article (maybe to spark a debate in the States, that is already undergoing in France? who knows.)
    The Internet was undeniably valuable during these attacks. I was 100 km away from Paris and for some reason my Le Monde push notifications weren’t working. It was a quiet Friday night, I believe I was actually ready to go to sleep after an exhausting week. I was doing multiple things at once, watching a TV show, answering a couple emails, and browsing Facebook. And there I saw it: someone posted in one of our school groups that there was a shooting going on in Paris. I was shocked. At first I thought it was just trivial (crazy people with guns exist on both sides of the Atlantic after all), but I immediately called my family in Paris to check what was going on. After they confirmed the craziness of the situation, I turned on the live feed of Le Monde, and started watching live coverage on a news channel — both on the Internet. Internet proved extremely useful: although I was away, I felt like I was living this with my city, I was understanding –there was no lag of time between what was happening and the moment I knew it, which is both reassuring and terrifying: 20 years ago, I would have learned about the attacks in the morning paper. On Friday, I was watching live, but it also created a climate of incredible fear both in my appartment, in Remis, the city I was in, and on social media.
    Yes, social media was incredibly useful during the attacks. #PortesOuvertes let people find shelter in a time of incredible panic. I was able to let my loved ones know I was safe almost instantly, by messaging them, posting a status, and checking in as safe. This is great and it reassured a lot of people.
    But social media was also really good at creating false rumors: you’re even reiterating one in your article (and no worries, you’re not the first journalist I see doing this)– the shooting in Les Halles was never confirmed, just a mere rumor going around on Facebook. The same way, no on duty policemen died during the shooting, nor are there still hostages in the Bataclan (believe it or not I saw this in an article on Sunday). Crazy stories are going around on social media– most unfounded ad only contributing to a climate of fear and a reiteration of the panic in Paris on Friday night. The French government has had to debunkle so many rumors, it is absolutely crazy. Thankfully, “authentic” media are being much more careful than they were during the Charlie Hebdo attacks only relaying informations that have been confirmed by officials, and listening when told to stop covering a certain scene (for those who are unaware, back in January the police lost about 24 hours when trying to find terrorists because a news channel was following them and reporting the exact location of the team on TV and on the Internet…) So, that’s my first point: the Internet was undeniably useful, but it is so unregulated that literally everything and anything is currently being posted on my Facebook feed. An yes, if I didn’t know not to trust them, I would be scared of all of the informations going around.
    Second, I have a real problem with the way the Internet sparked because of the Paris attacks and not with other attacks around the world. This is not at all the fault of individuals — yes, I am more shocked by the attacks in Paris than the ones in Beirut or Nigeria: Paris is my hometown and I ahve never been to Lebanon nor Nigeria. I imagine this is also your case and that of most of the Western world: yes, you are going to be more shocked to hear of an attack in a city you’ve lived in, visited, constantly hear about in Pop culture than with one that you (whether legitimately or not) associate with war and unstability. Yes, that is legitimate and justifiable. But Facebook is a Transnational Company. There are Facebook members in France, in Lebanon and in Nigeria. So why did they prefer to implement a safety check in Paris, a show of support by giving you the ability to change your profile picture to our colors and not in Beirut? Why did the Western media not give front page coverage in order to pay respect to the 45 innocents who lost their lives in Beirut? True, it is up to us to relay or not these informations whether or not we find ourselves to be touched by them or not. So I don’t believe this is the fault of the average Westerner, it’s juste basic human psychology. But, I believe that the media, and companies such as Facebook had the responsibility to cover the Beirut attacks as well… and they didn’t, which I find extremely deceiving. So in the end this is my second point: the Internet was great in giving support to Paris. I am so grateful for all of the messages I received asking if I was okay. But every innocent human life has the same worth, and obviously media on the Internet haven’t really shown that in the past days.

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