Why is #PrayforBoston more popular than #PrayforIraq?

Drew Margolin, a professor of communication at Cornell University who studies human dynamics through social media and is co-author of the study “The Ripple of Fear, Sympathy and Solidarity During the Boston Bombings,” says different online reactions in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in the West and Muslim countries are motivated by ‘personal connections,’ not just political or racial bias.

Bio: https://communication.cals.cornell.edu/people/drew-margolin


Margolin says:

“Most people’s gut reaction to the lack of social media outpouring is probably that no one cares about Muslims as a category. The implication is also that this lack of caring is motivated by a group-based bias, such as racism, ethnocentrism, or a religious bias.

“These factors likely play some role, but our prior research suggests that this is not the main force driving this apparent disparity. Rather, we found that the amount of sympathy hash tags – such as #PrayForIraq, #PrayForBoston – was substantially greater by people from cities with stronger personal bonds with the affected area.  

“We think this is because people’s emotions are aroused partly by their concrete experiences with the place under attack. If you’ve been to Boston, you will feel differently about it when it is attacked than if it’s just a place on a map that you’ve heard of. People are also motivated by their interpersonal ties; people they know who live or used to live in Boston or who travel their frequently. They feel more sympathetic because they are more sympathetic to these personal friends.

“For the reasons above, Americans might fail to show sympathy online for attacks in foreign countries because they do not have substantial contact or familiarity with say Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Iraq.

“While this explanation shouldn’t serve as a blanket excuse for apparent Western indifference, it might offer a solution to increase sympathy. We can encourage people to travel to new places and make friends. This might make them more sympathetic to these otherwise ‘other’ people on an individual basis.”


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