Social media lights up in grief and rage over Paris attacks

French tricolor, hashtags, images of Eiffel Tower fill Facebook and Twitter

Lyon, France prayer
Robert Pratta/Reuters

In times of grief and fear, people from around the world turned to social networks to search for loved ones and to share feelings of support, anger and sadness.

Within hours of the news on Friday that Paris had been hit with multiple terrorist attacks that killed at least 129 people and injured more than 350, Facebook News Feeds turned into a sea of the colors of the French flag and images of the Eiffel Tower.

Tweets on the social network Twitter were quickly filled with the hashtags #Paris and #PrayForParis.

While eyes were watching the news reports, social media users found comfort, support and solidarity by using the social networks that they normally turn to when they want to share information about things far more benign – like children's birthdays, vacations and favorite restaurants.

Over the weekend, many of those happier posts were replaced with visceral reactions from around the globe. Users talked not only about their outrage and heartbreak over the attacks but they reflected on times they had visited Paris, posting photos of themselves at landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, and offering prayers and words of support.

"It is truly amazing the way social media has changed the way we talk about events and the lives of the average citizen around the world," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. "Social media, for many, has become a reflex way to communicate our feelings and beliefs. Social media has become very important in these circumstances. It provides an immediate way to get access to real-time information and it's a channel to provide personal opinions, vent and find possible solutions."

The attacks on France also had led to more searches for information about the areas that were attacked and the terrorists involved.

Google's Trends page noted today that the top searches from both the U.S. and France were about what happened in Paris, who attacked Paris and what is #PrayForParis?

Searches about the attacks on Paris peaked on Friday at 5 p.m. ET, shortly after the attacks occurred.

Three days after the attacks, the top trending query is still "Paris update."

People also turned to Facebook and Twitter check on and search for loved ones.

On Twitter, users quickly began using the hashtag #recherceParis, which translates to research Paris, in the hopes of getting information on people they were trying to find.

Users in France also used the hashtag #PorteOuverte, which means open door, to offer people in need a place to stay.

Twitter also posted its top tweets about news stories on the attacks using its new Moments feature.

On Monday, #SilenceForParis and #ISIS, the terrorist group claiming responsibility for the attacks, were still trending on Twitter. The word "Paris" was still trending on Twitter with a total of 3.31 million tweets.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who is working onboard the International Space Station, tweeted over the weekend, "Shocked & saddened by terrorist attacks on #Paris. Standing with #France from @space_station. Our thoughts are w you."

NBC's The Today Show tweeted out, "Paris pausing for a moment of silence. #PrayForParis"

Facebook, which also provided a template with a blue, white and red overlay, the colors of the French flag, which users could add to their profile pictures, to show support for the French.

The social network also activated its Safety Check tool on Friday to enable users in a crisis area to mark themselves as safe so friends and family could check on them in one place. Facebook was also criticized for not activating the tool after a terror attack in Lebanon on Thursday that killed 43 people. In response, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on his Facebook page that the service would be activated more often going forward during "human disasters."

Facebook and Twitter could not be reached for comment.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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