Web Wanders: Choose to inspire

Web Wanders: Choose to inspire
Members of the public look at floral tributes placed near the cafe where hostages were held for over 16-hours, in central Sydney December 16, 2014.

There are many ways that we can respond on social media during a crisis. But before exercising our rights to put up whatever we feel like posting, perhaps it's worth considering what the overall effect of our actions will be.

Essentially, what we publish online during significant times will reflect what our personal values are. This will have an effect on the perception others have of us subsequently. But that isn't all there is to it. Whatever we post on social networks may end viral or start some sort of ongoing trend, by which time it may be too late to undo damage that has made it into the public sphere. While it isn't always clear what's right or wrong to do or say on social networks at such times, there are some lessons that we can draw from the actions of others which can help prevent us from doing something we'll regret later.

Let's take a quick look at what happened on social media during the recent hostage incident at Lindt Cafe in Sydney, Australia where 17 hostages were held captive by a lone Iranian gunman, Man Haron Monis to review what are some things we should do (or should not do) online during critical moments.

Show of selfishness

One of the many reactions that we saw on Twitter during this tragic incident was the posting of selfies by several individuals who were within close range of the scene of the crime. These images surfaced online bearing the hashtag #sydneysiegeselfie.

Those who posted such photos typically opted to snap a picture of themselves against what they felt would be a believable enough backdrop that would place them at the scene. For instance, one of them posed in front of a team of TV news crew who were busy reporting on the incident.

The actions of these insensitive selfie takers were eventually criticised by other Twitter users, and online publications like Daily Mail Online even went to the extent of publishing a story about it.

Well, for obvious reasons, it's not really a good thing to be capturing smiling images of yourself against a bleak hostage scene such as this. It shows disregard for the families and friends of the hostages and how they would feel, and also seems to be making light of a serious situation.

I did, however, stumbled across a blog post on a site called AlienVariety.com that held the opinion that it's not good to condemn the actions of those selfie takers. The rationale for this was that the author said it was human nature to want to record important moments if we are present at the scene.

While there is some truth to what the author of that blog post said, I only agree with him/her to the point where it's about just wanting to capture a particular moment or event.

Opting to take pictures or videos of action that's unfolding right before your eyes is completely understandable and what you record may even end up being useful to the relevant authorities.

However, taking a selfie is an entirely different story. The latter has narcissism written all over it, and I wouldn't recommend doing it at all during grim situations like this one.

Call to action

On the flip side, here's something else that emerged on Twitter during the Sydney hostage event: the #illridewithyou hashtag. It was created with the intention of encouraging Muslims living in Sydney to be unafraid of public backlash as a result of the incident.

This fear of harassment came about because the gunman, Man Haron Monis appeared to be Muslim. Adding fuel to the fire was the actions of certain anti-Muslim groups like the Australian Defence League who posted online that they would stage a confrontation in Muslim majority suburb, Lakemba if any hostages were to be hurt.

However, it turns out that not all Sydney dwellers are xenophobic.

A person known as Rachael Jacobs (whose Twitter handle is @rachaeljacobs) related an incident where she saw a frightened Muslim lady remove her headscarf out of fear. She wrote that she felt compassion for the woman and went up to speak to her, telling her to "put it back on. I'll walk with you."

Another Twitter user, Tessa Kum (@sirtessa) retweeted what Jacobs had posted and was inspired to offer to ride on the bus together with any Muslim who felt unsafe being alone in public. She was the one who suggested the creation of the #illridewithyou hashtag, which went viral afterwards.

Twitter Australia (@twitterAU) later reported that there were more than 90,000 mentions of the #illridewithyou hashtag.

Of course, probably not everyone who tweeted would have actually acted on their words. Nevertheless, the hashtag has undoubtedly triggered a whole lot of goodwill amongst others, both in Sydney and beyond. And that makes it something that's worth posting on social media.

Power in our hands

So there you have it, my friends. We have within our grasp a tool that we can use to either influence others negatively or positively at significant points of time such as the Sydney siege situation.

It's really up to us to choose how we will use social media when the time comes. But I certainly hope we'll pick our posts wisely and opt to inspire others over anything else.

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