Hurricane Matthew did a number on Haiti this past week. Hundreds are confirmed dead, thousands more are without shelter. The place looked like a war zone from the images I’ve seen. Various humanitarian aid organizations are rushing to provide food and healthcare to heavily affected areas. Rescue the stranded. Clean up the mess.
As students from the Savannah campus fled the oncoming hurricane onslaught and became our new neighbors, social media was ablaze with anger. Haiti has just suffered a disaster that is still claiming lives, yet unlike with past tragedies from around the world, Facebook has not made a flag filter for Haiti.
When I say “flag filter” I’m referring to the option Facebook sometimes gives its users to have a translucent flag over their profile photos to show solidarity with a people or populace that has recently faced tragedy or disaster. The most notable time this was used that I can remember as an example would be the Paris shootings in November of last year. Not long after the disaster, users could opt to have a translucent image of the French flag over their profile picture. For a few weeks, every single user I ran across had one. It was a nice gesture. The people stood with France.
The question on everyone’s mind now is why there have been no other flag filters for other countries when disaster strikes them. Why are there no flags for places like Turkey, Syria and Haiti? The people also wish to stand with these places in a gesture of solidarity and love. Is it because of white supremacy and people not caring what happens unless it is to a majority of people who have the same skin color as them, more easily pronounced names, a culture they can agree with? Though these have been posited as the reasons why there are yet no flag filters, I don’t think it’s that simple. The lead flag filter designer dude could’ve gotten lazy for all we know.
I know this, though: flag filters don’t really solve anything. I feel this needs to be said. While the critiques of Facebook’s seeming lack of compassion toward distant lands and their disasters are valid and that it is a nice gesture to rep the affected place’s colors, it isn’t going to rebuild their homes or their infrastructure. It won’t feed or clothe them. We have to lay aside our penchant for armchair activism and get on our feet to do that.
I ask that you continue to pose questions and raise critiques to Facebook and society at large about their seeming ignorance about these things. Point out injustices all over the world and put pressure on people to change them. Create a Haitian flag filter yourself, upload and share it if it pleases you to do so. While you’re doing that though, reach out to Haiti and other affected places that you hear about. Donate to the organizations, like the Red Cross that are working hard to clean up the mess. Find a way to get off of Facebook and on your feet to do something. Though it is a nice gesture, Haiti doesn’t need Facebook flag filters, it needs our helping hands.