I am saddened that 12 people died at the hands of religious extremists Wednesday. And, like many others throughout the world, I will mourn and protest and ask for justice, albeit through social media.
Never before has the need to protect free expression been more personal. People who use social media have claimed their right to the mass distribution of ideas (or the right to support the ideas of someone else).
We stand behind the slain cartoonists and journalists, in part because the right to publish — the right to free expression — has become a basic human right.
The #JeSuisCharlie campaign is proof that citizens of "free" countries are not the only ones disgusted by the shootings, and what this means for freedom. I’ve seen some of the content published in Charlie Hebdo. Some of it is funny, some is not. In fact, some content was disturbing and insensitive.
One thing is for sure: Thanks to social media, most of the funny, not so funny, disturbing and insensitive material published by Charlie Hebdo has found new life in the deaths of these journalists.
Thanks to social media, millions of people are retweeting, reposting and sharing Charlie Hebdo cartoons and satire. Other cartoonists are drawing memorials to those who were slain, literally proving the point that the pen is mightier than the sword.
I realize that people will feel offended, even outraged, when their religion is mocked. I see a lot of this on social media. But I also realize that being offended is a fair price to pay to protect the marketplace of ideas.
Salman Rushdie, who famously penned The Satanic Verses in 1988 and was forced into hiding after Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini called for his assassination, said, "I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity."
To defend free expression, Rushdie uses social media as a platform for protecting that liberty.
But it’s not just the recognizable thinkers and leaders who use social media to announce their freedom.
People all over the globe are posting support messages. Their social media profiles now read "Je suis Charlie." They are posting Instagram selfies holding signs that read, "Je suis Charlie."
This global outpouring reminds me of support messages sent from people in other countries to the U.S. (through traditional media) in the wake of Sept. 11. Today, those kinds of messages are sent directly to the world through social media.
I am not in France. I never read Charlie Hebdo. But social media allows me to mourn with those who have.
I am someone who knows that the work of those slain satirists was important to the cause of freedom. I am someone who remembers the pain when your country is attacked. I am someone who believes in the power of social media to support those who have lost so much.
#JeSuisCharlie, and you are, too.
~ A version of this post appeared in the Sunday, January 11, 2015 edition of The Vindicator.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.