Charlie Hebdo shootings will reverberate through a world connected by social media

‘Is the Charlie Hebdo shooting linked to Islamic Extremism?’ asks the headline on CNN today. No wonder CNN is losing audience.

It’s a rhetorical question – or headline – of course. We all know what the answer is.

But what might this terrible incident – which has, so far, resulted in the deaths of 12 people and other serious injuries – have to do with advertising, marketing and media?

The implications for those brave media owners prepared to challenge – however rashly – the view of others that their mad convictions are the gospel truth, are very clear. But usually they rise to the challenge, in a way that mainstream media do not when faced with big corporations and national institutions. But Islamists are from ‘over there,’ although that happens to be in a big part of Europe, so all parts of the media will rally.

For advertisers the issue is rather more complex. Their communications are no longer just paid-for ads. They want to be bloggers and communicators via social media, media brands in their own right. But their audience suffers the same fissures as Western societies do – in this case big Muslim communities who, for the most part, contribute enormously to Western life and prosperity. But who also, in certain countries, harbour people hell-bent on destroying the societies they live in.

Will they be as brave in supporting freedom of expression as the old-style media owners who will rally round the Charlie Hebdo victims?

You can argue that Bush and Blair helped to create jihadism in their incontinent response to 9/11, invading Iraq when that country – albeit one terrorised by Saddam Hussein – had nothing whatsoever to do with the attack on New York. You can go way back, if you like, to the way the Levant and what’s now Iraq were carved up by the British and French after the First World War. Or the creation of Israel: the Jewish community deserved a homeland but the Palestinians didn’t deserve the Israelis.

But what’s done is done and it can’t be undone. The aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo killings will be a big rise in European opposition to all things Muslim – there were already anti-Muslim demonstrations in a few European cities before the shootings – including, among other things, a dramatic rise in the appeal of the right-wing Le Pen party in France.

So it’s a big issue for communicators of all stripes. That includes the myriad of companies and their agencies who see themselves as ‘communicators’ and, more specifically, the social media giants like Facebook and, most of all, Twitter.

I don’t consult Twitter regularly. But I’m pretty certain it will be awash today with people suggesting that Muslims should be forcibly directed to the nearest lamp post.

A connected world is, usually, a good thing. But Charlie Hebdo faces it, specifically its facilitators in social media, with their biggest challenge yet.

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