Why did the Paris attack go viral, while previous attacks on Jews did not?

I was reading an exchange between some US writers and the French ambassador to the US about why France never held massive nationwide rallies after the numerous deadly attacks on the nation’s Jewish community.

And while I find the question a bit unnecessarily snippy in a “my suffering is greater than your suffering” kind of way, the question isn’t entirely off-base.

You hear similar questions asked in America every time a young blonde woman goes missing. Where is the nationwide media attention about the young African-Americans who die every day?

"We are one people."

“We are one people.”

The thing is, it’s difficult getting news stories to go viral; and it’s often even more difficult predicting which ones will.

Much of my professional career has been devoted to making stories explode in the media. And while there’s certainly an art to it — I’ve had multiple stories go viral over the years, so it’s not just a fluke — it’s still not easy predicting which ones will enrage the masses and excite the media. Nor is it particularly easy detailing exactly how one makes a story go viral.

It’s hard to explain why, but some stories just smell viral. Often, but not always, when I hear a story that has the potential to go viral, I get a pit in my stomach (I call it my “spider sense”).

Now, the question is “why” those particular stories smell viral. And I’m not entirely sure. Sometimes the crime (if it’s a crime story) just particularly shocks. And I suspect that crimes that shock the majority are crimes that make the majority think “that could have been me.” Thus, air disasters tend to shock, as any of us could have been on that plane.

Which brings us back to Charlie Hebdo. I’m really struggling with this, because a part of me thinks that whether it be anti-semitic attacks, or violence in the black community, non-Jews and non-blacks tend to think “that couldn’t be me because I’m not black or Jewish.” But even that argument doesn’t hold total sway: We’ve had great success making stories go viral in the gay community, even though most people aren’t gay. (The Matthew Shepard story comes to mind.) And the recent suicide of a teenage transgender girl went super-viral worldwide, even though most of us aren’t transgender.

Then again, Matthew Shepard was white, as was Leelah Alcorn (the trans teen). And it’s entirely possible that America’s white majority reacts more strongly to stories about white people. And in France, it’s entirely possible that people don’t react as strongly to attacks on Jews as they do attacks on journalists. And whether that’s overt racism, or a more subtle form of emotional segregation, it’s hard to say. But I do think a lot of it comes down to people feeling that they can relate with the victim, and that but for the grace of God it could have been them.

And in the end, perhaps the non-viral nature of some stories is discriminatory at its core. I don’t know. But I can’t help feeling that something else is also going on. Some stories, for whatever reason, touch our common sense of humanity. And others, though equally worth, simply don’t.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

Share This Post

© 2018 AMERICAblog Media, LLC. All rights reserved. · Entries RSS