France and Lebanon: A double standard

By: Rose Hogmire 

Numerous trending hashtags, a special France flag filter and the activation of Facebook’s Safety Check were just a few of the many ways the world showed its support for the people of France following the terrorist attacks throughout the capital city in November.

The political and social media attention proved to be a helpful tool for those in danger, grieving, and concerned as people connected with one another over the tragedy in France, but many were left criticizing Western media for their lack of attention to other recent attacks in Lebanon.

Sussanah George of the Associated Press describes society’s normalization of violence in the Middle East as an “empathy double-standard.” According to George, “The world unites in outrage and sympathy when the Islamic State group kills Westerners, but pays little attention to the near-daily atrocities it carries out in the Middle East.”

It is true, the attacks in Paris marked the first time Facebook activated Safety Check in the event of a terrorist attack. Safety Check is a tool created by Facebook that allows users in an area affected by a natural disaster to check in with their family and friends, letting them know they are OK.

In a company press release, Facebook’s Alex Schultz explained the social media giant’s decision as follows: “We chose to activate Safety Check in Paris because we observed a lot of activity on Facebook as the events were unfolding. In the middle of a complex, uncertain situation affecting many people, Facebook became a place where people were sharing information and looking to understand the condition of their loved ones.”

Seventy-two percent of Internet users in Lebanon also use social networking, according to the Pew Research Center. So, there is little doubt that the same rush to hear news or find loved ones occurred during the attacks in Beirut as well.

While the bombings in Lebanon were widely covered by CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, a surface analysis of the terms used by media outlets to describe the two attacks may have some implications for readers.

Taken side-by-side, CNN’s coverages of the two attacks is widely different. In “Paris attacks: What we know so far,” CNN reporters repeated words like “terror” and “solidarity,” evoking sentiments of fear and nationalism. They also went into great detail to explain the step-by-step plan of the Paris attackers that led up to the attacks. But in “Beirut suicide bombings: Why Lebanon and what’s next?,” CNN reporters describe the country as a “stable instability” and speaks at length of the grip Hezbollah, a Shi’a Islamist militant group, has on the area.

The New York Times’ Anne Barnard suggests the phrase “stable instability” undermines Beirut’s recent social developments and “risks portraying a busy civilian, residential and commercial district as a justifiable military target.”

Twitter users were less attentive to the news of attacks in Beirut in comparison to those in Paris. The Washington Post and CNN Twitter pages have millions of followers but both pages’ initial posts concerning Lebanon were retweeted and favorited a little over 200 times. Whereas initial posts announcing the attacks in France were retweeted and favorited over 1,000 times by users.