The attacks that unfolded in the Spanish province of Catalonia this past week have so far left 15 people dead and many more seriously injured. The main site of the attack was on the famous La Rambla boulevard in the centre of Barcelona, where a car drove down the main pedestrianised walkway mowing through the crowds at full speed.
Shortly after the attack, many people started sharing horrifying images of the aftermath on social media. This prompted the Catalan police to ask people to refrain from posting graphic images of the dead and wounded out of respect for the families and concern for public decency.
Soon after, some social media users decided to take strategic action to flush out the barrage of shocking images which were swamping the #Barcelona hashtag. Inspired by a similar strategy which was used in Brussels following the terrorist attacks in November 2015, they began posting images of cats with the Barcelona hashtag.
By taking the Barcelona hashtag by storm, these Twitter users hoped to spare the gruesome details of the hurt and damage inflicted that day. In so doing, they also help counteract the sense of terror and fear which can often spread on social media after this type of incident – and may give the attackers a sense of accomplishment or even valuable information about police movements.
On the other hand, concerns have been voiced that by posting such light-hearted images, social media users are belittling the plight of the victims and their families.
Yet, going by the huge outpour of support which has been shown by locals, visitors and the international community over recent days, it’s hard to imagine that this curious trend is anything but a genuine attempt to alleviate the suffering which is currently being felt in the Catalan capital.