What not to post: Avoid helping terrorists on social media
Indonesians are shocked and deeply saddened by acts of terrorism in Depok, West Java, and Surabaya, East Java, this past week.
As a society that upholds communitarianism, the public expressed its anger through social media platforms. Many crafted personal messages to their family members, some gave out warnings by forwarding horrific pictures of victims, crime scenes or even content that is not related to the attacks. Some were inclined to share conspiracy theories or manifest their anger by blaming security personnel or government officials they claimed had not been vigilant enough.
Even worse, a small number of the latter have accused the government and security agencies of being the real perpetrators behind the attacks.
These are unavoidable consequences in a post-terrorist attack environment. However, spreading information about terrorism on social media is a double-edged sword. It may create awareness, but it could also help the attackers in spreading terror. How can we use social media as a tool without turning it into a weapon for terrorist?
Terrorism has multiple definitions and world states have yet to agree on how to define it. However, what makes it different with other uses of political violence is the emphasis on “terror”. In this context, any terrifying message that scares society as a consequence of an attack can be as powerful as the actual violence – even more.
In the age of information, a message is seen by terrorist as another means to reach their objective. It is one of their goals to scare and disorient citizens as this would help them in spreading terror. Most of the time, those who spread unverified information do not realize that they have become mules.
Picture of victims
Following a terror attack, smartphone users frequently receive and spread pictures containing horrific images of bloodied victims. These can desensitize people from the horrors of violence and terrorism. From horror to banal, a concept coined by Jean Baudrillard, argues that our repetitious consumption of violence would eventually lead us to no longer see it as an anomaly. In short, spreading pictures of attacks will normalize violence.
It goes without saying that spreading pictures of victims also shows a lack of empathy.
Hate them or love them: Security personnel are our heroes
You may have personally encountered unpleasant situations with security personnel, especially the police. Perhaps they gave you a ticket when you were in a rush or their response was slow in a time of emergency. They are also notorious for being a corrupt institution. However, none of these can legitimize your dislike toward them during terrorist attacks. Why?
First, after an attack occurs, you would instinctively find protection, whereas law enforcement officers would be ordered to go to the crime scene. If a bomb has yet to be disposed of or a death squad intentionally hid themselves for a second wave attack, they would be the first victims.
We grieve for the loss of five officers in the riot at the National Police’s Mobile Brigade detention center (Mako Brimob). The officers, including those who survived the attack, formed a human barricade to obstruct the rioters from leaving the facility. After the attacks on Sunday morning, the police asked every congregation in Surabaya to go home, while bomb squads and security officers came to secure the site. It is supposedly their jobs, but any job that puts lives at risk is not an ordinary one.
Second, terrorist expect you to resent security personnel. They (or most likely their social media troops) would provoke you to badmouth law enforcement agencies to undermine their enemy. There is a tendency in people to be disoriented and follow their emotions rather than think rationally. After the Surabaya attacks, posts were uploaded on social media that undermined the police. Perhaps it slipped netizens’ minds that their posts were written under the protection offered by those they had disparaged.
Avoid online debates
In post-attack situations, neither the victims nor the police need your social media disputes. Terrorist attacks that target the symbols of specific communities, such as churches, can be viewed as terror against interreligious harmony. Being divided or justifying the attack is “good news’” for the terrorist. Netizens could argue that democracy and freedom of expression ensure their right to debate. However, unity is always the priority in post-terrorist attacks.
I feel it is better to share content that may help strengthen social cohesiveness. Avoid “too soon” jokes that could offend anyone, and practice empathy.
Reminder: You can always go offline instead
Above all, if my suggestions seem to restrain you from sharing content, you can always share your prayers. Terror attacks occur in real life, and if our online activities can’t help the situation, it is always good to find a way to directly help the victims and their families. This can be in the form of monetary donations for the victims’, blood donations or something as simple as attending a mass prayer.
Satrio Dwicahyo is a graduate of the Gadjah Mada University’s (UGM) School of History in Yogyakarta and is currently pursuing his post-graduate studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University Singapore.
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