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WWI Remembered On Social Media

People Come Together To Commemorate Losses Of The Great War

Wilfred Owen, as he watched his fellow soldiers die beside him the trenches, asked ‘What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?’ Now, a hundred years later, on the centenary of the beginning of World War I, people have taken to social media to remember and commemorate those who gave their lives during the conflict.

While the politicians’ speeches and newspaper articles were about the big picture, social media gave people a chance to speak out about the personal effect of the Great War; people spoke of grandparents, neighbours, teachers who gave their lives.

Engagement with social media also gave organisations a chance to make public information about the War in new and innovative ways. The Greater London Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Association (GL RFCA) created a Facebook page for a fictional soldier from Battersea called Walter Carter which was then updated in real time with posts about events leading up to the outbreak of war, incorporating real historical documents and references.

On Twitter the hashtag #WWIcentenary was trending, with people using it to share the memories which had been passed down to them. Since Harry Patch, the last British veteran of the trenches died in 2009 the importance of maintaining this history has become more acute and social media acted as a forum for people to collectively share and store these memories. Almost sixty thousand people tweeted with the hashtag #WWI in July alone, with many of these being concerned with personal memories and experience: according to the website findmypast.com, 1200 of those tweets alone mentioned ‘home,’ and over 1600 mentioned ‘love.’

The coinciding of the centenary with the Commonwealth games gave an additional poignancy to proceedings, with the contributions from all the former nations of the British Empire being recognised. David Cameron used #WWIcentenary to talk about a special service at Glasgow Cathedral to recognise the contributions of the Commonwealth nations, and individuals used social media as a platform to speak about those who they feared may be forgotten – such as the 400,000 Muslims who fought for the Allies during the conflict.

People also took the opportunity to launch campaigns to bring this mass remembrance offline. The hashtag #lightsout was created to encourage people to switch off their lights between 10 and 11 pm tonight, a reference to Sir Edward Grey’s remark at the outbreak of war that ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’

All this helps to remind us that social media is not simply a platform for a display of our own lives, or a tool to facilitate business – it is what it says it is: a society. Its strength is not something inherent, but only a product of the interaction of the billions of individuals who use it, and one may hold out some hope that that the kind of international conversation and cooperation seen on this anniversary is something of a guarantee that that which is being remembered is truly being consigned to history.

Douglas is an English Literature graduate who has written about everything from music to food to theatre, now a content creator for Social Media Frontiers. No topic too large or too small. Follow him @DouglasAtSMF.

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WWI Remembered On Social Media Reviewed by Anonymous on Monday, August 04, 2014 Rating: 5
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