The instant online symbol of global support for Paris after last week’s attacks was a roughly rendered peace symbol with an Eiffel Tower in the middle of it. The French designer Jean Jullien sketched it as soon as he heard the news of the atrocity. He called it “Peace for Paris,” and it immediately became a sensation on social media. Its success is a sign of the times.
We have become experts at treacly online mourning. We take grotesque atrocities and launder them into trite symbols and slogans that are usually self-congratulatory and, of course, wholly ineffectual. The 19th-century author William Dean Howells once said, “Yes, what the American public wants is a tragedy with a happy ending.” On social media, the happy ending is the widely shared and tweeted image or hashtag.