Cheap Solidarity: Why painting over your profile picture won’t save the world

C’est la Social Media.

In light of the recent attack in Paris, people around the world are once again being reminded of not only the fragility of human life but the vulnerability of the western world. In what should have been an eye-opening moment for those who chose to ignore the problems beyond their borders, the online sector of first-world humanity has taken to the global scene with their latest and greatest offensive to date…

They posted a picture filter of the French flag over their profile pictures.

One by one, “individuals” pushed on with the Facebook-prompted “temporary profile photo” in an act of cheap hive-mind solidarity. Eventually, one’s wall is inundated with images of the French flag or the Eiffel Tower. Much like those who slap yellow ribbons on their cars or say “thank you” on Veteran’s day, the collective suddenly felt a little better about themselves, just like “Je Suis Charlie” earlier this year, the world stood in solidarity…until something else came along to distract them.

Now obviously, some people actually do care. I know of several people who engaged in “color-coded caring” (so named as the overlays usually represent the colors of cause a nation’s flag) because they felt it was a good way to “spread awareness” or “do what they can”. I get that. But will it actually change anything? Has it?


For every person who genuinely feels sorrow, there are ten who simply partake in color-coded caring because it is the fastest and most convenient way to look like a “good person” in light of a serious event without putting in any blood or sweat of their own. Color-coded caring is the ultimate in passive activism, much like the last minute-cheap gift picked up at the drugstore on your way home for your anniversary dinner. On par with hashtag activism, this is the epitome of “how to be involved without actually doing anything”.

“Hold on, let me take a selfie of the moment I saved the world.”
“Hold on, let me take a selfie of the moment I saved the world.”

By courageously switching their profile pictures or throwing down the gauntlet on terrorism with #StandWithFrance, individuals have not only taken a faux stand in the laziest way possible, they have more or less absolved themselves of any responsibility to act on a problem that has been going on for a long time. They did their part, they helped spread awareness. They can dust off their calloused hands and walk off into the sunset until the next major disaster or event. No sweat, no blood, no tears, no problem.

Homeless comic
Like this, only it doesn’t work. Photo Credit:

How many people have actually been brought ‘up to speed’ on Islamic radicalism, wanton refugee acceptance or specifically, ISIS presence in Western Europe? How many people have been reading up on the constant tension and clashes in France? How many of these “deeply concerned” people can find France on an unmarked map?

Hint: it is that one we invaded from that big island over there.


None of this information is new or shocking. None of it. People knew it was going to happen. The Islamic State even said it was going to happen- the relative ease for flooding refugees was going to allow combatants to get in undetected. The relatively lax nature and low probability of resistance in Europe was going to make it a prime target. When you open the gate to your pasture and allow a stampede to flood in, it is nearly impossible to discern the sheep from the wolves among them. As they say, C’est la guerre.

Yet everyone seems shocked by this. It is as if acts of terror haven’t been rocking the globe nearly-continuously in the past few years, as if ISIS hasn’t been steamrolling over entire countries and cities with a small army, as if this whole problem is someone else’s problem. The information is out there. The events are happening in real time. Our current generations have access to the most powerful source of information that humanity has ever created, yet we would rather skip learning about what is happening in the world around us in exchange for figuring out whether or not Glenn died on The Walking Dead.


What does it matter? You’re already a zombie.
What does it matter? You’re already a zombie.

If you really care, get active. Donate to organizations that will help the survivors. Stay up to date on not only current events concerning terrorism and the refugee crisis, but the history that caused them. Write your representatives demanding a clear, concise action that is aligned with whatever you feel is ethical. Stay Informed. If learning and providing aid isn’t enough (and you’re feeling especially bold), I’m sure the Kurds or other faction of your choosing could use your help on the ground. Go grab a rifle and make history abroad, or (if you don’t feel like fighting another war anytime soon) collaborate with others to improve the response protocol in your homeland (volunteering for emergency services, organizing the community to respond to disasters, taking an active shooter response course, whatever floats your boat). You have a variety of things that you can do. Your profile picture makeover is a cheap and temporary testament to your true concern when it comes to the world around you.

We live in a world where everyone cares when it is convenient, often because we feel pressed to do it or don’t want to look silly- like the only guy in the room who doesn’t get the joke but laughs anyway. Do you really want to be that person?

If you really do care, do more than simply care when caring is the cool thing to do or until the next big thing comes along to distract you. Be aware of the world around you. Ask questions. Whatever you do, don’t watch the images on TV as if it can’t happen to you- a forest fire is all fun and games to watch on TV until you start smelling smoke.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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