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#BurnThatFlag - The Searing Online Response to Charleston

It's been a week since Dylan Roof walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston and murdered 9 innocent African Americans. The racially motivated attack has ignited a huge response almost the world over, honouring the victims, supporting their families and condemning the distinct reluctance by much of the mainstream media to address the shooting as any kind of terrorist attack.

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Much has also been made of the fact that Charleston's home state, South Carolina, is still steeped in reminders of the civil war. Many of the streets in Charleston and elsewhere are named after confederate generals and the confederate flag flies in many parades and places across the state, including outside the capital building. The argument has always been that it can stand for state heritage, rather than the racist views that helped to spark the civil war in the first place, but that already flimsy perspective has all but crumbled in the wake of the shooting.

Online merchants like Amazon, eBay and Walmart have stopped selling any confederate merchandise, but that might actually run counter to another online reaction, the #BurnThatFlag challenge. Across the States and elsewhere, people have been filming and photographing themselves setting the controversial flag ablaze and posting the result on their social media profiles. June 27th has even been marked as National Burn the Confederate Flag Day by a popular left-wing activist group. Thus far more than 9,000 people have hit the 'attending' button, though obviously that number cannot account for how many people will ultimately end up taking part.

It's probably the most laudable viral social media movement there's been for quite some time, but that's not difficult. Even taking that into account, burning flags is pretty uncool and could lead to property damage or even injury if done irresponsibly. That being said, the blending of viral challenges and hashtag activism is a welcome one in many ways, since it encourages people to take more of an active role in the causes they support. Silly as it was, the ice bucket challenge raised a huge amount of awareness for ALS and motor-neuron disease.

The challenge is still in the early stages, but it will likely end up splitting between people willingly doing it in a responsible way with the best of intentions and people just messing around with little regard for the reasoning behind it. There are plenty of other, less aggressive movements springing up as a result of Charleston, like vigils and increasing online criticism of media outlets for shying away from calling Roof a terrorist.

However this turns out, #BurnThatFlag still falls well behind #BlackLivesMatter and ultimately it's just a small factor in the far wider battle against the institutionalised racism festering in American culture. Any kind of support for that fight, however arbitrary, has some value.


Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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#BurnThatFlag - The Searing Online Response to Charleston Reviewed by Callum Davies on Wednesday, June 24, 2015 Rating: 5

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