It’s been a big week for armchair activism.
We all saw the picture a few days ago of the drowned body of three year old Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach. The haunting, heartbreaking images travelled around the world, dominating both mainstream and social media alike.
It was a news story that so far has marked a turning point in press coverage and public opinion of the ongoing refugee crisis. In the Facebook and Twitter world when sharable content is the key to make us sit up and pay attention, giving the story an unspeakably sad and very human face, suddenly gave it a hook.
And all it took was a viral image. And a dead child.
So the good news, if anything can be classed as good news in this whole desperately sad story, is that the death of Aylan Kurdi and the photographs that were printed and shared thousands of times within hours has changed the popular perception of refugees. Guess what everyone? It turns out the ‘’swarm’’ of “migrants” trying to gain entry into Europe were actual human beings after all; mothers, fathers, children.
There is nothing more shocking, more heartbreaking than a dead child. It is an image that speaks of waste, of innocence destroyed, of unimaginable grief. Nobody wants to see photographs of a drowned toddler popping up on their Facebook but the horror and outrage produced was enough that even Downing Street has been forced to acknowledge that the British government has been forced to look again at their policy due to the change in public mood. So a big congratulations to everyone who retweeted or hit the “Like’’ button on that article from The Guardian. We showed them.
If I sound cynical, I’m sorry to say I am a little. The nature of our 24 hour news cycle and the constant hunger it and social media creates for new material means that there is a real risk that this chapter in the worst refugee crisis since World War Two will be viewed as this week’s hot story before the popular news agenda moves on to the next coffee time discussion topic.
This is an example of just how much popular opinion and sincere outpourings of outrage and compassion can jolt government into action. At least in the short term. And the problem is it is very short term. The harsh public scrutiny that the British government and the rest of Europe is under in the wake of the death of Aylan Kurdi must not stop when the next Facebook friendly news story comes along and saturates our news feeds.
Remember Cecil The Lion? After he was shot in Zimbabwe by that American dentist earlier this summer, he was everywhere. I remember signing petitions calling banning imports of lion trophies to the US and European Union. And one could not move for pictures of both poor Cecil and Walter Palmer, the American hunter who killed him. But then the photographs and saturation coverage and serious discussion in the media about conservation in Africa faded.
At the risk of offending hardcore animal lovers, it would be very inappropriate to compare the fate of one lion in the jungle to the desperation situation facing thousands of refugees fleeing the Middle East. But that story from just July of this year is the perfect example of the modern news cycle; blanket coverage, a heavy social media presence and a huge groundswell of public outrage triggering much debate and discussion until the story burns itself out and fades from public consciousness.
The size and scale of the refugee crisis means that it is very much ongoing. This new wave of public empathy and protest triggered by the heartbreaking photos from a Turkish beach has forced governments to act. It’s a start. But clearly only a start and for the sake of the lives of thousands of men, women and children it must continue and build.
Aylan Kurdi must not become this week’s Cecil The Lion. He deserves better than that.
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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.