Social media’s role in collective mourning and solidarity

In addition to the terrible attacks in Paris on Friday, November 13, numerous cities and countries around the world experienced mass loss and devastation. Globally, people reacted with sadness, anger, confusion, hopelessness, and solidarity.

As in recent national and global tragedies, Facebook photo filters and Twitter hashtags saturated newsfeeds. However, what distinguishes the aftermath of November 13 from past tragedies is the wide sweeping unification of voices with #PrayForTheWorld.

People from around the globe have since expressed their sorrow and support for their own countries and for those who fell victim to acts of terror and natural disasters. #PrayForNigeria flooded Twitter after yesterday’s attacks in Yola. #PrayForSyria also reemerged this weekend as people demonstrated their support for Syrian Refugees during this time of crisis for displaced refugees around the world. #MuslimsAreNotTerorist and #RefugeesAreNotTerrorists are also being used by muslims and non-muslims alike to help prevent islamophobia and racism.



It is easy to dismiss this type of social media as a mere trend. But, be it via meme or hashtag, the Internet today has become a medium for collective mourning. Perhaps collective mourning via social media is simply an ephemeral means of expressing empathy. However, sudden or fleeting, there is a sense of courage and hope behind #PrayForTheWorld, one that urges people of all races and creed to unite in awareness and shared empathy.



#PrayForTheWorld claims no religious doctrine; it instead aims to unite people in their mourning, in their courage, and in their prayers. #PrayForTheWorld  and many of the accompanying hashtags and the connected posts, tweets, and images are rooted in hope and reaching for unity. We are witnessing a rare interconnected dialogue on social media. Over the past few days, the Internet has become a place to share grief collectively, a mass vigil for all those whose lives were lost, those who lost their homes, and for all the families in mourning.


While people have taken their mourning and shared empathy into their own hands with the #PrayForTheWorld, there have also been examples of resilience and empathy in media. Perhaps most notable is Mashable’s ‘En mémoire’ @ParisVictims, which Nieman Journalism Lab reported on this week. ‘En mémoire’ has shown how media can do more to humanize victims through reflection and narrative. This type of media leads to a place of restorative narrative because it offers people room to mourn, honor a life, and come together.

Mourning (especially in public) is interesting and difficult territory for media practitioners today. Individuals use their personal online platforms to mourn without reservation, yet media often tends to lump victims together or only focus on the best/worst stories to share. This clash is the intersect where Mashable’s ‘En mémoire’ is embedding itself. In a time where anyone with a Twitter account can express their solidarity and mourning using the rhetoric they find most appropriate, media strives to catch up as individuals are taking charge of how they use social media and the Internet to mourn with others.

Other media and online projects, including Google Fortune Telling, which pops up at random on Facebook feeds, are moving towards creating a space for people to pause in support and awareness of crisis. Beyond awareness, these online modes of mourning, which are rapidly shared and expanded upon, create solidarity.

Projects like ‘En mémoire’ and the waves of solidarity and mourning on social media from #PrayForTheWorld will hopefully inspire media to continue to honor the individual lives and stories of victims from around the world. As people continue to mourn and strive to potentially heal, it is important to consider how individuals and media practitioners use social media platforms to build communities of empathy and solidarity.


Related: In the aftermath of tragedy, lay the groundwork for Restorative Narrative

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