Where you one of numerous people who had changed their profile picture on Facebook to reflect the French national flag, to show your solidarity with France, as it battled with one of its most bloodied terrorist attack that killed more than 120 people?
When Facebook allowed users to add a French national flag to their profile photos, my newsfeed got flooded with my family members and friends who did that. Exactly like the last time when Facebook allowed us to put Indian flag colours on our profile pictures, after Indian PM Narendra Modi visited the Facebook headquarters. That time, users were asked to support Digital India. Only days later there was a huge controversy over this move by Facebook, with allegations against the brand for using the temporary profile picture as a support for its Internet.org, touted to be much against the concept of net neutrality. The controversy took such proportions that Facebook had to come out with an explanation that the changing a profile picture is not equivalent to supporting Internet.org.
But that was then, and this is now. And sadly, once again, changing profile picture in solidarity with the French tragedy is facing a lot of flak. Says a report on Independent, ‘Euro-centrism – a worldview which centres and places overemphasised importance on the West – reinforces its supremacy through actions like these… If you want to show true solidarity with those who’ve been wrongfully killed, the first step is to acknowledge and mourn their deaths equally and genuinely, not just because they’ve brought to your attention by a tech giant’s misguided marketing tool.’
So has corporate branding reached a new high, or a new low, depending on how you look at it? Since Facebook has just started to offer this feature of adding a coloured filter to your profile picture, can this be the new way for users to offer support, or is it simply armchair activism, a way to say I care, but only this much? An article on Wired reported, ‘Facebook has put itself in the business of ranking human suffering, and that’s a fraught business to be in.’
I tend to agree with French editor, Charlotte Farhan, who said, ‘I won’t be changing my profile to the French flag even though I am French and from Paris. The reason for this is that if I did this for only Paris this would be wrong. If I did this for every attack on the world, I would have to change my profile everyday several times a day. My heart is with the world, no borders, no hierarchy, I hold every human’s life with value who is attacked by extremist beliefs whether they are based on religion, prejudice or profit! Don’t be part of the “us and them” mentality which the war mongers want you to do!’ It’s no wonder her message got picked up by every newspaper around the world.
Tragedy of any proportion, man-made or natural, affecting few or many, is unfortunate. Most of the time, in our urge to do something concrete and yet not much time consuming, we land up picking up the first thing that comes our way in the name of support. Changing profile picture in Facebook is probably the easiest thing to do, corporate branding notwithstanding. A few clicks, and we land up feeling satisfied to have done something for the victims of the tragedy, and the social media platform records maximum engagement from users!! Do we feel good about it? Oh yes!! Does it help the victims or their families? No, sir. And yet around 100,000 people had changed their profile pictures on the platform, and the platform itself saw a spike of 3,000 times its regular traffic (Wired report), making it surely one of best engagement strategy for the company ever. This is corporate branding at its best, definitely.
No, I didn’t change my profile picture on Facebook, not now, and not much likelihood of doing that in future either. If there is a post on the French tragedy that moved me the most, it’s an Instagram post by karunaezara, ‘It’s time to pray for humanity. It is time to make all places beloved. It’s time to pray for the world.’