Last week’s social media response to the killings at Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris reminded me that sometimes I don’t really have a lot of guts when it comes to speaking up. As the “I am Charlie” meme spread across Facebook and Twitter feeds like a match dropped in a hayloft, I didn’t post a thing… not a single thing about the atrocity.
My reaction to the news was sadness for the victims, for their families, for the relentlessness of extremists. I was sad for the concept of freedom of speech. As a big fan of satire, I was sad for the risks those who engage in it take.
But I posted nothing. And as I watched my feed fill up with the bloody pen, I felt really awkward. I couldn’t bring myself to post anything about Charlie Hebdo on my timeline because “Je ne suis pas Charlie.” I’m not. I don’t possess the courage those artists at Charlie Hebdo had. I don’t have the talent. And before this terrible incident, I didn’t even know what Charlie Hebdo was.
I wanted to say this at the time, but I didn’t have the courage to do even that. What if I offended someone who did post the bloody pen to their page?* What kind of supporter of the free press would I look like if I posted such a thing?
In this act of not posting, I was proving my point, I guess. I really am not Charlie.
But then along came a real journalist — one even who writes for the Financial Times — pointing out that, yes, guess what, we’re not Charlie. Other real journalists followed. It wasn’t backlash. Rather, it was honesty. And it was something I could have posted the moment I thought about it.
But I didn’t. I am not even “not Charlie,” apparently. It seems my ideas need the approval of legitimate press, even when I’m pretty sure they aren’t original.
Sharestentialism is my term for the idea that you are what you share. But like the concept of white space, how does it relate to what you don’t share? By not sharing that I’m not Charlie, I was sharing that I have no guts, at least to myself (and my husband in whom I confided my mixed emotions.) I wondered, too, if the absence of “I am Charlie,” from my status update indicated a lack of concern.
Can the image we portray through social media be defined as much by our “silence” as it is by what we share? If the assumption that we are judged (at least sometimes) by what we post on social media is true, then what about what we don’t?
* I feel I must apologize to anyone who posted the bloody pen, and also isn’t Charlie. I know you were doing it out of solidarity.