Last 15 April, the world watched in horror as the 850-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France burst into flames.
Details of the damage
The raging blaze had devastated the iconic structure beyond recognition in just two hours; onlookers helplessly witnessed fire engulfing Notre Dame until its spire and several parts of the roof collapsed to the ground. According to official reports, it took around 400 firefighters and a total of nine gruelling hours to put the fire out.
The aftermath? Debris everywhere, the cathedral’s pews in total disarray, a gaping hole where the Notre Dame’s vast ceiling used to be, the spire reduced to heaping piles of rubble and ash. Oh, and we almost forgot — a noticeable influx of Notre Dame photos and Paris holiday snapshots posted on every social media platform available.
Reacting to disasters in the digital age
Of course, something as controversial as the Notre Dame fire would make headlines across the globe. In this day and age, this ripple effect extends in waves online. And as they say, the medium is the message so something as ravenously consumed as digital content flits from one cyberspace to another at the speed of light. Well, not literally at the speed of light, but you get the idea.
As soon as news of the fire broke out, netizens from all over began churning out content on social media: there were words of comfort and sympathy; there were conspiracy theories on how the fire started; there were bold expressions of pride (following French President Emmanuel Macron’s emotional statement, “We will rebuild Notre Dame together.”), and of course, there were photos. Photos of trips to Paris. Snaps of dreamy French holidays. Thousands of moments captured right by the Notre Dame Cathedral in all its former glory.
A case of “competitive mourning”?
It didn’t take long for American comedian Whitney Cummings to notice the trend and air out her grievances online. In a Tweet posted on 16 April, Cummings said, “This Notre Dame Fire turned into people bragging about their vacations to Paris very quickly”.
This Notre Dame Fire turned into people bragging about their vacations to Paris very quickly
— Whitney Cummings (@WhitneyCummings) April 16, 2019
And just like that, the Internet was divided. While others agreed that these status updates and photos were just cases of online bragging distastefully disguised as sympathy posts (one netizen even tagged the phenomenon as “competitive mourning”), some begged to differ.
Several social media users were quick to defend those who expressed mourning and sympathy by posting their Notre Dame photos. Netizens cited freedom of expression; they pointed out that Cummings had no right to police how people communicated on social media. Like-minded individuals also said that it was not Cummings’ business to question the sincerity of these “sympathy posts,” adding that tagging these travel posts and Notre Dame photos as “bragging” was just downright unfair.
Reflect on your intentions
As expected, Cummings came to her defence with a simple invitation to reflect on our intentions.
“Guys, insane I have to say this, but I’m not talking about everyone. We can all tell the difference of when someone makes a tragedy about grieving the actual tragedy and when they make it about more themselves than the loss. Let’s all refuse to let trolls destroy nuance,” the comedian explained in another Tweet.
Great points from both parties, so what do you think? Did you post your Notre Dame photos?
In the spirit of reflecting on our intentions (just as Cummings invited us to do), did you (re)share those Notre Dame photos out of concern and sympathy? Or did you just see it as an opportunity to stay relevant online and talk about that Parisian holiday you enjoyed years ago? That’s certainly something to chew on — let us know!