Web Culture

#JeSuisCharlie: Murder, Cartoons and Barbara Streisand

Harry Guinness 08-01-2015

This morning in France twelve people were killed over a satirical cartoon poking fun at radical Islamists. The denizens of the Internet, and especially cartoonists, united in solidarity behind the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie.


As you’ve likely heard by now, masked gunmen entered the office of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and opened fire. Amongst the dead were the editor of Charlie Hebdo, Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier, and three cartoonists, Jean “Cabu” Cabut, Georges Wolinski and Bernard “Tignous” Verlhac.

Two police officers were also killed in. As of the time of writing, one suspect is dead and two men are in custody.

It Isn’t News Without A Hashtag

Nothing of note can happen without a Twitter hashtag What Do We Care About? The 7 Most Memorable Twitter Hashtags of 2013 From natural disasters to the death of a great man, from the end of an immensely popular TV show to a 5-year-old boy's biggest wish coming true, 2013 has seen it all. Read More so #JeSuisCharlie appeared to fill the void. For those don’t know any French,  it means “I am Charlie” — an expression of solidarity for the murdered cartoonists.

While countless tributes flood Twitter, the most poignant come from other cartoonists and satirists. The attacks today were an attempt to stifle free speech through terror. Through the Internet, they’re showing that they won’t be cowed. Joe Randazzo, a former editor of The Onion has written a particular good article.


Repeat Offenders

This is not the first time that Charlie Hebdo has come under attack. After running a caricature of Muhammad in 2011 their offices were firebombed. Following that, and other death threats, Charb was placed under police protection. The threats to his life didn’t stop his work at Charlie Hebdo. In a 2012 interview he said “I would sooner die standing than live on my knees”.

It’s worth noting that radical Islam was one of Charlie Hebdo’s many targets: the Catholic church, anti-feminists and French politicians were all equally likely to be the subject of a cutting cartoon.


The Streisand Effect

#JeSuisCharlie is only the latest example of the Streisand Effect in action.

Named after the singer Barbara Streisand, the Streisand Effect is the name given to the online phenomena where trying to suppress something results in it being spread more. As Chris explains towards the end of this article Avoiding Censorship: How Blocked Websites Stay Online and Accessible [MakeUseOf Explains] We've been hearing a lot about website-blocking recently, particularly with anti-piracy organizations forcing Internet service providers to block access to The Pirate Bay in the UK and elsewhere. However, when UK Internet service provider BT... Read More , pictures of Streisand’s house appeared online in 2003. Her attempts to have them removed from the Internet led to them getting far more publicity than they otherwise would have.

Charlie Hebdo is a fringe French newspaper. Their circulation is not measured in millions of page views per day but in thousands of readers per month. Yet, at the moment, it is hard to visit Facebook or Twitter without seeing something related to the attack. Not only is the offending comic being shared, but far more offensive ones are too.


What would have been seen by a small number of people in France is now being seen by millions of people around the world.

“I Would Sooner Die Standing Than Live On My Knees”

Freedom of speech is a common refrain on the Internet used to justify almost anything. Often what is hidden behind it is unpleasant Worse Than Hitler: Why Do Flamewars Happen? Why are flamewars so common on today's web, and is it really a new phenomenon?  Read More . Posting private photos Reddit Bans Celebrity Nudes, Motorola Launches New Moto X & Moto 360, And More... [Tech News Digest] Also, Microsoft revamps MSN, Steven loves emoji, Google Glass lands on Google Play, and Wakie wakes you up with strangers. Read More is not protected speech.

But this time the Internet got it right.


Yes there have been some calls that Charlie Hebdo “had it coming”, but they’ve been few and far between.

For the most part, the Internet has recognised the murders today for what they were — a calculated attempt to suppress the freedom of the press — and reacted in the only fitting way: by shouting about it from the digital rooftops.

Taking It Offline

#JeSuisCharlie has now spread offline. All over France, Europe and the rest of the world, people are gathering to show that they won’t be brought low by terror tactics.

As terrible as the events of today were, they are showing the Internet at it’s best. Not only are millions of people around the world uniting in solidarity with the victims online, but a hashtag has also helped bring countless people into the streets.

Final Strokes

The Internet is a strange place. It brings out both the best and the worst in people. Today, in response to a horrible terror attack in France the Internet was at it’s best. As sad as the murder of twelve innocent people makes me, seeing millions of people around the world respond with empathy, compassion and righteous fury gives me hope.

Related topics: Hashtag, Politics.

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