Facebook, Paris and the failure of modern foreign policy

How social media affects foreign policy decision-making

As Paris was up in flames several days ago, so was social media. Facebook erupted and its administrators allowed users to temporarily change profile pictures to show solidarity. They gave people the ability to conduct “security checks on their loved ones living in Paris during the attacks. People went from sharing pictures of the Kardashians to sharing opinion articles on the Syrian refugee crisis and ISIS.

Opinions were mixed; unsurprisingly the right used this to push against harboring refugees and some went as far as using the attacks as an example of why citizens should be allowed to carry guns. Turns out that most of the attackers weren’t even Syrian, let alone refugees.

This is not the first time this has happened; Kony 2012 and the Bring Back Our Girls campaign are other examples. But who has checked up on those issues since the last time they retweeted the hash tags or shared the video? How many times did people share Aylan’s — the dead Syrian child washed up on a Turkish beach — picture? Refugee support was through the roof on social media when that picture was published … a big shift in opinion now that the Bataclan drowns in blood, huh?

When Paris was attacked, it didn’t take more than 48 hours for governments to pledge their support of France’s bombing campaign. Trudeau’s promise of pulling our fighter jets out of Syria seems to have been delayed for the time being.

Through this chaos, a harsh reality is uncovered: citizens demand immediate government response to events hours after they happen. Naturally, governments rush to quench our thirst for vengeance and issue statements to soothe us. Governments make us feel like we’ve contributed to the decision making process. In some way we have, but at what cost? More Western troops to go fight a guerilla war in Uganda? To Nigeria? Decisions to send more Western military troops are made hastily, often even when these decisions are made due to ulterior motives. 9/11 can be used as an example. Most people now know that Operation Iraqi Freedom wasn’t just for overthrowing Saddam for having fictional chemical weapons and supposedly abetting Osama. Ever heard of Halliburton? If we were truly intervening for the social good and bringing murderers to justice, don’t you think we would have done something about the Rohingya? Look it up, I dare you.

Whenever we feel compelled by some event or some social media trend, we immediately go up in arms and demand action for atrocities committed around the world. Events that are often caused by our very involvement. Citizens’ impatience causes government to make rash policies. This often results in foreign policies assembled in a rush, and this has to stop. It is irrational and irresponsible to make important decisions such as bombing another country in such a hurry. Especially when the decisions often result in killing civilians.

Public satisfaction cannot trump logical decision-making. Foreign policy needs to be formed through a calm and patient process, where every aspect is analyzed and the long-term consequences are considered. We are now witnessing the failure of modern day foreign policymaking, and we are partially to blame.

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Olivier Chagnon

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