As many around the world unite in solidarity and support for the victims of last Friday’s terror attacks in Paris, some have questioned what the global reaction tells us about the way the world views tragedy depending on where such instances take place.
On Nov. 12, a mostly Shiite residential area of southern Beirut, Lebanon, was hit with a double suicide bombing during rush hour, leaving 43 people dead and hundreds more wounded. Authorities claimed the attack was the worst the city suffered in years. The Islamic State (ISIL) group claimed responsibility for the attack. There were also terrorist attacks in Nigeria involving Boko Haram in January this year with over 2,000 deaths.
Neither of these incidents have caused the same level of public sympathy or global news coverage as the Paris attacks, which left 129 people dead, and hundreds more injured.
Global outcry for the Paris attacks was immediate, and support was sent to the city from around the world, in the form of pictures showing solidarity and the worldwide trending hashtag, #PrayforParis. U.S. President Barack Obama called the attack, “an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.” Online Facebook users around the world were also able to use a special feature that allowed them put France’s tricolors over their profile pictures.
Critics say this shows a double standard when it comes to the global coverage of terrorism. Journalist Chris Graham highlighted this discrepancy in Australia’s New Matilda website: “It’s a curious state of affairs, when you consider that there are around three times as many people of Lebanese descent living in Australia, compared to French nationals… You’d think if we were able to identify with anyone, it would be with Lebanese Australians.”
Google Trends comparison of search terms between ‘Beirut attack’, ‘Paris attack’, and ‘Nigeria attack’
The chart above doesn’t convey absolute search volume. Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart. If at most 10% of searches for the given region and time frame were for “pizza,” we’d consider this 100.
Another analysis by Aljazeera English online accused the Western media of not only downplaying the attacks, but seeking to, “categorize Lebanese victims rather than mourn them.” It also claimed, “there are virtually no quotes from the victims and the word ‘terrorism’ is rarely used.”
Facebook has also come under fire for activating its “safety check” feature during the Paris attacks, when it was only previously activated for natural disasters. Some have accused the social media giant of ignoring other terrorist atrocities, such as the terror attack in Kenya in April, which left 147 students dead. According to Reuters, the country is one of Facebook’s fastest growing markets, and is a key entry point into the African continent.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, has addressed the criticism, telling users they were right to ask why “safety check” was used in one instance but not the other.
“Until yesterday, our policy was only to activate safety check for natural disasters. We just changed this and now plan to activate safety check for more human disasters going forward as well. We care about all people equally, and we will work hard to help people suffering in as many of these situations as we can,” Zuckerberg said.
Meanwhile others say that there is no double standard, pointing out that other terrorist atrocities in Africa have sparked similar reactions in Western media. #BringBackOurGirls was a worldwide hashtag marking the kidnapping of 273 school girls by Islamic terrorists in Nigeria and the Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi received similar global media coverage.