Saturday, 12 September 2015

Thank you Facebook, it was about time!

A few people I know are still a bit snotty about social media and just occasionally I can understand why. You run the risk of saying something silly on the spur of the moment and not being able to retract it. Or you give away more than you intended to because your settings weren't quite right. In the last few weeks, however, Facebook, Twitter and the like have showed us that they can be a powerful force for good. Thanks to messages and pictures shared on these networks, thousands of people have been galvanised into action to help the refugees trudging across Europe in search of a safe haven.

Tom Clark, who is collecting donations for CalAid
Tom Clark, a Henley hero
The deeply poignant photograph of the drowned Kurdish toddler Aylan Kurdi, lying face down in the surf as if he had just fallen asleep, was a turning point in the public perception of the refugee crisis. Aylan and his family had set off for Europe in search of a better life, after previously fleeing fighting in Syria. Up until this point, there had been a steady drip-feed of immigration articles and disturbing images on social media, including pictures of other drowned children washing up on beaches, but somehow Aylan tipped the balance. I know many of us found such images highly distressing, particularly within the context of our hokey, homely Facebook feeds, but all those 'shares' of a little boy on the beach meant we had to face up to the horrors going on in the world.

The outpouring of rage and indignation that followed this watershed forced the UK prime minister David Cameron to change the tone of his rhetoric and show a more humane approach to the refugee crisis. While Germany and 'Mother Merkel' opened her arms to the migrants, many of us in the UK were ashamed by our government's cold-hearted rebuff. Cameron realised that he had misjudged the public mood and was forced into a U-turn of sorts.

Now my little town of Henley-on-Thames is buzzing with initiatives to collect clothing and supplies for migrants at the camps in Calais, as well as refugees further afield in Greece. Today a group of townsfolk are even taking part in a nationwide vigil to show solidarity for the refugees. Our local paper the Henley Standard has twice put a young businessman, called Tom Clark, on its front page, after he decided off-his-own-bat to collect donations for CalAid and drive them down to Calais in a hired van. 
After forming a plan to help, Tom set up a group on Facebook to keep his friends in the loop and then found that everything just "snowballed from there". 

Politics no longer seem to matter and the debate about whether we should be accepting more immigrants into the country has been shelved. Aylan, in all his innocence, has shown us that this is a humanitarian disaster and that we can no longer sit back and passively watch the stories filtering through social media. The time to act has come and we have Facebook/Twitter to thank for that awakening.

To read more about Tom Clark's collections, click here to see his Facebook page.

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