Commentary

During Social Media Blackout, Belgians Turn To... Just Guess

With Brussels locked down amid an ongoing manhunt for suspected terrorists, Belgian police asked inhabitants not to tweet details of police operations or share their own movements or whereabouts on social media. Civic-minded Belgians have naturally complied with this serious request, but not without a bit of online silliness. In place of their normal social media content, they’re using the hashtag #BrusselsLockdown to post pictures of, you guessed it, cats.

Cats, cats, cats – literally tens of thousands of pictures of cats, usually doing something hilariously undignified with perfect composure, in typical cat fashion. Cats being “arrested” with their paws up, cats reading up on military strategy, cats handling weapons heroically, cats enjoying a spa treatment, cats dressed up or photoshopped into various "Star Wars" scenes or paraphernalia, cats drinking beer, cats in Superman outfits… the list goes on.

The response probably reflects a degree of cabin fever: in addition to shutting down mass transit, schools and other public facilities, the Belgian police have asked citizens to stay off the streets and the inhabitants of Brussels have found themselves cooped up inside for several days straight. But there’s also a definite sense of defiance, as ordinary people use social media en masse to deliver the message to terrorists: “You can’t scare me.”

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Terrorists tend to take themselves very seriously, and despite their claims to selflessness there’s a great deal of narcissism in how they present themselves: ISIS propaganda favors images like a robed fighter riding a horse carrying a banner fluttering dramatically in the wind against a desert background, just like the good old days 1,300 years ago.

Given this obsession with hackneyed cinematic imagery, there’s no better way to puncture the terrorists’ inflated self-image than responding with some amateur cat photography. Humor and laughter are powerful tools, turning a dramatic moment into farce and stripping evil people of their false dignity, simply by posting pictures of animals doing dumb things.

As C.S. Lewis wrote: “Above all else, the Devil cannot stand to be mocked.” Or photoshopped with a cat sniffing his butt.

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