Two key moments dominated today's memorial service for the late South African leader, Nelson Mandela in the social media. The first is President Barack Obama's historic handshake with Raul Castro, the Cuban president, and brother of Fidel Castro. The other is Obama's selfie with Danish prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, and British PM, David Cameron.
I can understand why the handshake is of interest. America's 50-year-old diplomatic face-off with Cuba has meant leaders of two nations just don't interact. I am not sure Fidel Castro ever shook hands with any US president and he tenured through at least ten of them.
On the selfie, the reactions on Twitter and Facebook have been mixed. It's amazing how it turned out to be such a social media feast. Here's the take of some of the mainstream media on it:
The Guardian of UK called it 'selfie diplomacy' and writes:
"For a memorial service it was a remarkably jovial scene: Barack Obama, David Cameron and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Danish prime minister, huddled together for a smart phone photograph."
HuffingtonPost simply called it:
"Eyebrow-raising candid snap"
Buzzfeed, the New York-based social media site posed a rather interesting question:
"Is This The Most Important Selfie Of 2013?" (I think it is)Mashable's Chris Taylor rose to the defense of Obama in view of criticisms:
"In the wake of the Obama funeral selfie, the Tumblr declared it could not top that, and promptly shut down at the height of its fame.
But this is the Internet age, where you don't just get a few lines of caption underneath a damning picture on your front page. You get the whole story whether you like it or not. So here's an object lesson in mitigating circumstances, suitable for sharing with anyone who decided to spin their own story on the basis of this picture.
First of all, this wasn't strictly a funeral; certainly not the solemn dressed-in-black occasion we often associate with the term. It was a four-hour stadium-sized memorial celebrating the life and works of the beloved Madiba, a riot of colorful dancing and singing. Think New Orleans meets the World Cup.
Secondly, it seems to have been a day for Presidents and VIPs to take snaps of themselves. Witness Bush and Bono on Instagram (which wasn't technically a selfie, unless the former President has extraordinarily long arms):
Thirdly, consider the context of the shot itself. In other photos, we can see the leaders joking around, switching seats, looking bored — all the things you might find it hard to avoid doing if you were stuck in a stadium for four hours."This photo of the smiling trio taking their self-portrait are all over the Internet and the debate as you may expect is intense. There are those who think they were just ridiculously childish.
Kortni Kline, in a Facebook comment won't take it at all:
"Taking selfies at memorials. I expect this of stupid teenagers, but not of WORLD LEADERS."
"That was tacky, to say the least. What are they? A bunch of 14 year old girls?" wrote Deena Shipman
"No excuse. He should be setting an example. This makes me sick," notes another comment.
"I'm with Michelle. How immature and rude of all of them!"
"For the record, the Mandela memorial was less of a grieving event and more a celebration of his life and work," writes Uri Fintzy
"People should get off their self righteous soap boxes and get a grip. This faux outrage is nauseating," notes another.It's fun reading a lot of the comments online. But I think it's just selfie. It's just a second or two in a four hour event. Presidents are humans after all.
The AFP photojournalist that captured the shot said his picture showed the dignitaries in a rare unscripted moment.
"It was interesting to see politicians in a human light because usually when we see them it is in such a controlled environment. Maybe this would not be such an issue if we, as the press, would have more access to dignitaries and be able to show they are human as the rest of us," he said.
He feared the photo's global impact could overshadow what was "a celebration for an obviously exceptional person" reports AFP.
Anyway, I'm told that the last time that a funeral had such a pool of world leaders was in 1965 when Winston Churchill was buried.