Reactions to Kenya attacks highlight disparity in social media

Following the deadly terrorist attacks claimed by ISIS in Paris this past Friday, social media was flooded with red, white, and blue pictures to show support for the victims, and many articles were shared to spread awareness of the horrendous events that took place. In the midst of all these articles being shared on social media, many users stumbled upon a story of another terrorist attack that took place in Kenya.

“Man, what is happening to the world right now?” one Facebook user wrote when he shared the story. Many more even tweeted headlines about the Kenyan attack: “148 dead in terrorist attack on Kenyan college.” The main article on the attack in Kenya being shared was from BBC news and was clicked on nearly 7 million times. Why weren’t any major news outlets covering this story along with the Paris attacks? For many, the attack seemed to be breaking news. In reality, the story was from April 3, 2015.

The attacks that took place in Kenya were just as horrifying and tragic as the attacks in Paris: 148 students and faculty killed by al-Shabab militants who stormed the campus of Garissa University College, in a siege that lasted for 15 hours. According to several witnesses on campus during the attack, the militants singled out and targeted Christians, and even allowed other Muslims to vacate the room before committing the terrorist acts. One of these witnesses, student Collins Wetangula, said that “If you were a Christian you were shot on the spot. With each blast of the gun I thought I was going to die.”

For those who skimmed across the article without seeing the date, it seemed there was another recent international tragedy that called for outrage. But after the eventual widespread awareness of the events that took place last April, the story became an even more somber tragedy.

There came a sudden realization that there was no large social media reaction to Kenya such as the one for Paris. In fact, the article spread so quickly that it became abundantly clear many people were just now hearing about the attack for the first time, even though the events took place seven months ago.

While many social media users did share the link because it was a new story to them, there were others who shared the article in order to make a point about possible insincerity and hypocrisy of social media movements. After the terrorist attack in Paris, the twitter hashtag #PrayforParis was tweeted more than 10 million times, while other large catastrophic events took place just days prior, such as the suicide bombings that left over 40 dead in Lebanon. Lebanon, however, did not get the same treatment France did. There were no vigils held around capitals of the world, and President Obama did not hold a press conference to speak on the crimes committed by ISIS against those in Lebanon. Instead, they received a twitter hashtag #PrayforLebanon, which was tweeted 800,000 times, but with a vast majority of those tweets being seen days later, after the trending #PrayforParis.

Those who attempted to reveal a hypocrisy in social media movements also pointed to the other side of spectrum, looking at the #Prayfor… trend jumping to unrelated events. An example is the hashtag #PrayforJapan, which was tweeted after news broke of an underwater earthquake taking place near Japan, but leaving no-one killed or injured, unlike the massive devastation that took place in 2011.

Kelly Rossetto, faculty at Boston College, saw insincerity at the social media movement, and thought that the response was not out of genuine care. Rossetto stated that, “Watching the waves of everyone else grieving can make you feel guilty. If you’re not changing your profile picture, if you’re not posting a message, you start to question your own grief response.”

As Christians, how should we respond to these attacks? Rather than start a social media campaign, Ed Stetzer, a Christian speaker and author at “Christianity Today,” believes that Christians should first and foremost pray — not just tweet #PrayforParis, but actually pray for France. Pray for the families of loved ones lost. Pray for fellow Christians that are affected by the attacks, and pray for Muslims likewise. After prayer, Christians need to love those who are hurting. Love the people of France, Lebanon and Kenya. Do as Christians are commanded in Romans 12:15 and “weep with those who weep.” In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, a French newspaper said, “We are all Americans now,” and now Americans have the chance to be Parisian. Stetzer says Christians also need to love their enemies. Emotions such as anger and sadness are natural after catastrophic events, but Stetzer warns to be careful of letting that anger turn to hate, as Christians cannot reach out to people and hate them simultaneously.

“Times like these are filled with emotion, and that is normal,” said Stetzer. “But let’s make sure that our response is more tempered by the fruit of the spirit than online rhetoric. Don’t get caught up in debates and anger. This is a horrible night, but our story is bigger than this and it ends in hope. Even as we mourn, we have nothing to fear.”