When Posting the Stars and Stripes

It has been two weeks since the unspeakable happened. How many of us watched the television news for nights on end, numb and completely unable to concentrate on anything but the horrific stories from New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.?

My daughter’s preschool teacher told me to turn off the nightly news and wait until she went to bed. “A little child doesn’t need to know about such things,” she said, patting the pony-tailed head of my four-year-old. She was probably right, and yet we kept the television on, trying to glean more information, more facts that would help us understand and perhaps reach out to those who were truly suffering.

We also found ourselves checking the Internet and our emails over and over. Yes, there were the usual inane messages that seemed completely oblivious to the days’ events (Great Mahjong Game — Free Demo! Wines We Think You’ll Love! Arthritis and Sex!). There were also the constant emails on prayer vigils to be held on almost every street corner. And there were the pictures that were sent back and forth. Among the most moving that I found were images of the world’s reaction to the horror; some of these people probably knew Americans only in passing, but they stopped to light candles at our embassies across the world.

Eventually, when Peter Jennings or Dan Rather began talking themselves into circles, I started scouting the Web sites. There were the obvious ones — American Airlines, United Airlines, the countless World Trade Center businesses that suffered horrific losses. For the most part, each did its best in posting a message that would express something to the families, the business partners, the curious who would, again, try to find information that might help make sense of what seemed so senseless.

And then, after a few more days, almost every Web site of every American organization began posting the now ubiquitous fluttering stars and stripes. Why? It’s hard to say and even harder to criticize. Perhaps there was just a need to do something, to acknowledge solidarity, and to post an image when mere words failed.

But may I make a humble suggestion? Link that flag or ribbon to some useful information that will help people reach out and understand. Perhaps it’s a tie to the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or a link to something that reminds us not to descend into racism when tempers flare. For those who want to act locally, it could also be a link to our communities’ medical centers, which have had persistent blood shortages.

Think of why you are posting that image of Old Glory. If you do it because everyone else is, maybe that’s OK for now. But think a little more: What do the events of the past month mean to your site or your organization? Perhaps you actually have something to say about what seems unspeakable. Perhaps you have some information to offer, something to help unify us in these trying times. We are all hungry for information and meaning these days — even my four-year-old, who eventually asked why the two buildings got hurt.

If you are a marketing communications person worth your wage, you’ll use your Web site to communicate, elucidate, and reach out. That’s what we’re supposed to do best, especially in times like these.

Editor’s note: For more on the impact of the September 11 attack, check the special section of internet.com’s E-Commerce/Marketing Channel, The Trade Center Disaster: Industry Response.

Related reading