A combined examination of the Charlie Hebdo attacks on January 7, 2015 and the November 13, 2015 attacks in Paris yields a social media movement that evolved within the 10 months between the attacks, a comparison between these terrorist attacks and those of September 11, 2001 and parallels between American First Amendment principles and France’s free expression laws.
The Charlie Hebdo attacks fueled an online debate over freedom of expression and religion, whereas the purpose of social media evolved into a humanitarian one following the November 13 attacks in Paris. This research looks into the individual evolutions of the related hashtags that surfaced in 2015, including #JeSuisCharlie (and its opposites, such as #JeNeSuisPasCharlie), #DonDuSang, #PorteOuverte and #RechercheParis, among others. Another research point was with the September 11 attacks—with the 9/11 attacks against the United States, few to no channels were available for the kind of immediate discussions and support seen after the Paris attacks. After spending time in Paris during the spring 2015 semester and researching the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the history of the publication, the conclusion rests on the idea that the online discussions perpetuated by both supporters and dissenters of the magazine contribute to a more robust, open democracy supported by these social media platforms.
A portion of this thesis also delves into the parallels and differences between the American First Amendment and the French free speech laws—all of which pertain to the Charlie Hebdo content and the online responses to the 2015 Paris attacks.
The interviews conducted include a French art history professor at the Sorbonne University in Paris, two creators of the “Je Suis Charlie” Facebook page, an American journalist living in Paris who covered the Charlie Hebdo attack and who was present during the November attacks, and a Muslim-American doctor in Phoenix who founded the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. The ideas surrounding free speech, the value of art such as that found within the pages of Charlie Hebdo, the media’s treatment of religion, traditional democratic freedoms and ties to social media revolutions are all components of this research thesis.