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Kenyon GS: Facebook and the hypocrisy behind the filter

Opinions Columnist
Monday, November 16, 2015

The series of terrorist attacks that gripped Paris — and the world — in shock on Friday night will not go without its deeper effects on our increasingly globalized world. From all corners of the globe, displays of solidarity, empathy and love have risen in the face of what appears to be a long conflict in the waiting between radical Islamic terrorism and Western culture.

For those of us on Facebook, this has become readily apparent in the option to filter our profile pictures with a semi-transparent French flag. But I take deep issue with Facebook’s management for creating the French flag filter while disregarding other atrocities worldwide.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. The offering — perhaps more commonplace on Snapchat or Instagram — is clearly becoming the option de jour (or de l’annee) on Facebook, as 2015 brought users the choice to filter their photos in a rainbow flag following the Supreme Court’s declaration that same-sex marriage is a nationwide right.

Planned Parenthood picked up on the trend with its #PinkOut campaign, seeking support from across the country as Congress examined defunding the organization after the release of a series of undercover videos indicating that the organization may have engaged in questionable behaviors surrounding the use of aborted fetuses. No doubt the private sector will begin to capitalize upon this new (and customer-tailored) means of advertising and communicating.

In the wake of Friday’s attacks, Facebook offers us the ability to drape ourselves in the French flag — but what about the other tragic events that have taken place around the globe, both this weekend and in the weeks and months prior? France is our nation’s oldest ally, but for a nation and a social network that connects hundreds of millions of people around the globe, is Facebook’s selective offering of whom to stand with in solidarity not absolutely hypocritical?

Facebook’s mission statement clearly states that it aims “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world and to share and express what matters to them.” If users are supposed to decide “what matters to them,” is it not contradictory that Facebook delivers the option of expressing only what may or may not matter to us as dictated purely through the lens of those in Menlo Park, California?

It is devastating that 2015 has brought us so many horrific events, but why has Facebook not provided the greater Facebook community with preset options to display solidarity as we see fit? Recall the thousands of victims killed by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Recall the suicide bombings that have plagued Afghanistan and Iraq. Recall the Oct. 10 explosions that targeted a peaceful demonstration in Ankara, Turkey, by the Islamic State. Recall the suicide bombers who killed 43 people and injured 240 in Lebanon on Thursday. Recall the continued attacks on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian border that terrorize the lives of those in the region every day.

Even domestically, think of the events we do not give greater acknowledgement — whether it is recognizing the tragic effects of a mass shooting, the effect of the Black Lives Matter movement on our larger political discourse or the men, women and canines who serve and protect our nation overseas and at home. Where was the option to emblazon our profile photos with an American flag filter on Veterans’ Day in a show of respect at a time when our veterans have become a political volleyball in terms of how to care for those most in need?

For my fellow Brunonians or students at any campus across this country, where is Facebook’s offering of a show of unity behind Black Lives Matter or the cry of students at the University of Missouri?

That’s right, there isn’t.

Facebook will have to refine its role as a global moderator of communication and expression. While we are presented with limited options of pre-made expression, we can always go and construct our own. But I believe Facebook must reflect the true diversity of individuals it serves.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a global job. He can be seen doing anything from socializing with President Obama to asking Chinese President Xi Jinping to name his child. Zuckerberg should not only talk the talk; he must also walk the walk on promoting the global inclusion of his brand.

It is not my intent to smear Facebook or its support to Parisians, but rather to point out a crucial flaw I see in the company’s practices to date. I strongly believe in the success of private enterprise and the private sector leading the way in driving our economic and social future. But when a company indicates in its mission statement that it strives to connect users with the world, it is hypocritical for its management to drive the community narrative through the eyes of Menlo Park. Facebook’s board of directors may want to reexamine its inclusive global practices as the company moves forward. Perhaps someday we will no longer shake our heads with displeasure when we see “trending” news stories that juxtapose terrorist attacks with Chrissy Teigen and her bold sartorial choices.

Let’s join together in standing not only with Paris but also with Lebanon, Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Palestine and everyone affected in our global community. It is bittersweet to see so many of my Facebook friends from all corners of the globe coming together and accepting Facebook’s offer of the flag filter. Let us expand on its potential. Let us engage in this larger, continued discussion and recognition of the chronic tragedies that touch our world far too often. Will Facebook lead the way?

Facebook, the choice is yours.

Ian Kenyon GS is a master’s of public affairs candidate with the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. He can be reached at, and he anticipates some negative commentary for questioning the flag filter.

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  1. Ian, there is no Palestine.

    And Israel? Shift your thinking there. Israel is Paris, Nigeria, the Barcelona train bombings, the London tube bombings, the NW China bombings and southern Russian bombings, and Mumbai bombings and Bali disco bombings, the the bombings in Kashmir and Khartoum and Kenya and Karachi and Mosul, Timbuktu and Kabul too. Israel is on the front line of the caliphate building jihadist ambitions. Nothing more than a pesky hindrance in the way of building an infidel-free Middle East.

  2. Ian, shift back 1,400 years to the village of Qurayza, a Jewish village near Medina.

    The Jews of Qurayza lived peaceful lives. Their religion was part and parcel of their identities. For Islam’s prophet their unwillingness to embrace Islam was an affront. He warned them once to convert, he warned them twice and then he warned them thrice and they refused to give up their faith. He then invaded Qurayza and had his men behead 600 to 900 Jewish men and teenage boys. He then enslaved all the women and girls and forced them to become Muslims. Of course, and as you no doubt know, this is now happening in Nigeria and elsewhere. Where the Boko Haram kidnap girls and force them into Islam. This also happens throughout the Muslim world.

    In fact shifting back 1,400 years again we see Mohammed and his armies conquered village after village. Rinse and repeat. And within 300 years of Mohammed’s birth Islam ruled most of what is now called the Middle East, most of what is now called North Africa, large areas of Asia (including destroying the Buddhist kingdoms in Afghanistan), Spain, Portugal, Sicily, etc.

    Israel is today’s Qurayza.

    • “The Jews of Qurayza lived peaceful lives” — here’s where you got it wrong.

      • Yeah, no doubt. Is this also where the Animists in Sudan got it wrong? I mean why else would Muslim Caliphate-building jihadists attack that country, murder 500,000 people and take over their land?
        Or do I got that wrong too? {Sarc/off}

  3. ShadrachSmith says:

    The Trolley Car metaphor

    Rawls theory of Social Justice is taught in many if not most American universities. You can recognize the class by the opening lecture centering on the metaphor of the Trolley of State.

    The Trolley represents the political faction with the goal of Social Justice as created by Rawls to be appropriate to a Marxist dictatorship.

    The right thing to do is choose the lesser evil of running over individual rights (the single person) rather than the values of Social Justice (the group of people). The kicker is that the Trolley Car has no brakes.

    The American constitution is the brakes on the Trolley Car of politics, because it declares the trolley may not run over anybody’s individual constitutional rights, because that is tyranny.

    Now, if you read that a couple of times, slowly, and realize that Sharia features the same metaphor about their Trolley Car of advancing the faith or faithful, you will understand.

    If that doesn’t help, you already took the blue pill and you will believe whatever you want.

  4. The indifference to terrorist attacks in Muslim countries stem from the Western superiority complex combined with typical Western hypocrisy and mixed with the usual Western arrogance. Not only Westerners failed to recognize human suffering in Ankara, Suruc and Beurit. They completely turned the other cheek to the most horrific videos of children suffocating to death by Assad gasses. Very despciable indeed. This hypocrisy only feeds the anti-Western sentiment which is capitalized by terrorist recruiters.

    And then they come and ask “Why are Muslims not condemending terrorist attacks?”. Are they serious? They are so blind they cannot see that Muslims are the first victims of those attacks, they are blind to their own actions and cannot see that they themselves did not show any solidarity with Muslim victims of the same terrorist group. It’s messed up really, I’m so glad I don’t suffer from Western superiority complex.

    • No, but you do suffer from the following…

      “As Nikolai Sennels said, a Muslim never sees himself as the
      cause of his own actions. It is all external reality and everything is the will
      of Allah or the fault of the Big Bad Infidel. Hence the eternal victimhood
      status, the rage, the search for external culprits, hence the jihad. You can’t
      expect anything else from people who are incapable of taking a long hard look
      at themselves and who have been told since the cradle that this look is only
      reserved for the infidels.”

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