So, your profile picture is important to you.
It’s a photo of:
You Laughing on a Beach, You with Your Family #Hawaii2015, Your High School Senior Portrait. It’s how you want your friends, family, and even strangers to perceive you— a valued part of your reputation.
In the wake of the Paris attacks, social media exploded with French flags, tweets, political rants, shared articles, and “#throwback” abroad pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower. The support for our foreign ally was evident; never before had I seen so much red, white, and blue plastered across the faces of my “Facebook friends”. They stood in solidarity over the interweb, pledging support, raising awareness and sending silent prayers.
Yet, I felt guilty. I felt guilty for not joining the mass of “Facebook Friends” who temporarily changed their profile picture to support France. An action purely meant to display support, I hesitated over the button, and asked myself, why? Why do I feel compelled to justify my support via my profile picture?
The purpose of social media is to publish your life, your thoughts, your “likes” online. So naturally, our first reaction is the need to show everyone our acknowledgement of what was happening across the globe. We want our reactions published, posted, and tweeted.
There is nothing wrong with this sentiment. Millennials make up a quarter of the nation’s population, with 71% of teens using Facebook daily . Social media has become a integral part of our being, an example of who we are and how we want to be perceived. The attack in Paris was a horrific nightmare that warranted a response; and the immediate, universal response happened to be millions of users changing their profile pictures.
This, has been condemned repeatedly. It is not necessarily an idle gesture, but it is also not a highly actionable one.
I came across the term “slactivism,” a phenomenon coined by the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business. The term is described as using “likes” and actions like the profile picture change to “associate with a cause without committing resources to support it” . People have commented that the action is not proactive, that it is a byproduct of our generation’s incapability to step away from the digital facade we have made for ourselves.
However, is this wrong? Are the millions of social media users wrong to use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter?
I did not change my profile picture because I believed that it wasn’t an honest representation of who I was. I knew I would be changing my photo to appease the masses, not to display the type of solidarity that I wanted, or felt. In contrast, many people did change their pictures to a striped blue, white, and red because this was their personal way to stand alongside of France. To them, it is a symbol of positive support for France and the victims of the attacks.
There is no right answer.
Social media works as the mediator between the individual and the world. Use it to your advantage, but don’t let it dictate who you are. That picture of “You Laughing on a Beach” only holds as much importance as you allow it to.