The bodies of thousands of Indigenous children were found buried on the sites of Canadian residential schools over the past few weeks. Canada, as a collective whole, is in mourning. Across the country, flags fly at half-mast. Justin Trudeau has apologized and sent remorse to First Nations communities. Various Catholic Church members sent out apologies and asked for ways to help. Upon lawns, signs demand justice for the children lost. Online, Indigenous Canadians have expressed grief, anger, depression or hopelessness. Other Canadians have shown solidarity online. Still, many non-Indigenous Canadians don’t know how to express condolences. What is the correct way to mourn online? How do non-Indigenous people, or people of a privileged class, show remorse online, without treating people like tokens or waving a please-don’t-fire-me flag?
Social Media Mourning
In America and Europe, outrage burst from millions tired of police brutality against Black people. On BlackOutTuesday, millions posted a black square on their Instagrams. This action met criticism – is posting a square enough to represent remorse? Is it enough effort to stop systemic racism? Online gestures towards social problems often feel and label as cheap. When people are suffering or hurting in real life, does virtual promises for change really offer solace or comfort? In an age when posting is a second nature, doing the same gesture of posting is seen as cheap or callous in comparison to speaking to representatives or MPs, donating or protesting.
Social media users often use their voice to discuss and promote political or pressing issues. Everyone has some commentary on the news. Everyone wants to include themselves in some way in politics. Its fair, social media is an extension of our lives and politics are a part of our lives. Social media is so often presentational and an outer crust of our personalities. It’s what we show to people when we want them to think of us a certain way. It’s impossible for a picture, a short message or a video to capture the fullness of our personalities. It’s impossible to show fluidity and fullness of emotion online, especially when constantly reflecting back on yourself to monitor how you present.
With that in mind, mourning online from a privileged class always feels awkward. It often feels forced and a means of social insurance, used to avoid criticism. Empty gestures have made a home of social media, and posting something meaningful in a sea of otherwise normal life content feels completely forced and another presentation of social media. On the other hand, complete lack of posting anything feels and seems completely callous and removed. Not including oneself in serious issues or failure to show solidarity with those suffering always meets criticism. Not posting feels as empty and effort-free as posting.
Corporations are even worse. With money on the mind, companies posting their solidarity with people suffering screams “PR move” more than “authentic understanding.” Want to keep good morale with customers will always come before a genuine display of moral compass. Social media has made a fairground for companies to pose as our friends. We follow and watch them like our friends. Therefore, they must act like friends of those who they seek income from. Companies not posting until the levee breaks just confirms that companies do not care about the people who support them and keep them afloat. Participating is so often tokeny or too late and reactionary. Not participating is proof of corporations greed and coldness. There’s virtually no middle ground and actions of sympathy from both corporations and individuals must be authentic both for their and the community’s sake.
Keeping It Real
I always crave more emotional depth from people in privileged positions mourning online. I always hope that there will me some new nugget of honesty, previously unseen by others, that reveals how they are reflecting on the benefits of their class. Endless celebrity and influencer and politician statements on public outcry just recycle buzzwords related to mourning: “I pledge to do better,” “I take accountability for myself,” “While, at the time, I thought X, I now realize I was wrong,” “I have privilege.” Everything reads like tidbits their PRs or managers said was acceptable apologies or displays of remorse.
I understand there is always distance between creator and follower. Still, social media describes itself as a tool to bring us closer together. The globalization that social media brought makes us more aware of one another’s suffering, but made empathizing into a show of presentation. Correctly mourning would be being honest about what experiences you have and feelings you have. What responsibility is yours and why? Companies, especially those with ample revenue, have an obligation to act in financial or demonstrative ways. Companies can take stronger approaches against actions that hurt and donate to charities or people who need help.
Taking responsibility doesn’t always have to be public or even posted. There are charities, organizations and communities that want people to join and help. Using social media as a tool to help others rather than display the self feels better and looks authentic, because it is. Expressing something as personal as mourning with the mentality of preserving social status is deeply unfulfilling and detrimental to other communities.
If social media is a tool to sell, present and perform, any and all forms of mourning will be uncomfortable to post and view. Twisting social media’s use to engage with ego will bring egotistical results. Those who have suffered want honesty, help and responsibility. Posting can show solidarity but not when it isn’t authentic or used as a means of fixing one’s own social status. Social media can be used as a tool to connect and help others, not help oneself. We can grow and heal as a community is through honesty, despite the temptations of presentation that social media offers.
Featured Image by Jessica Delp of UNSPLASH.COM