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Social media launches activism after Parkland

Noelle Mesbah and Sara Isser

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Feb. 14, 2018. 2:21 p.m. While many of us were sitting in ninth period, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were facing the unimaginable. Within six minutes, the course of the school’s history, and perhaps the history of the country, was changed forever.

The news of this tragedy made its way around the world in real time through Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram. Immediately, students experiencing the shooting were broadcasting first-person points of view across the internet. Unlike other school shootings, the news of this tragedy was brought to our attention through Parkland students’ Snapchat videos. Instead of appearing in an article on the internet or being broadcast on the news, the information about the shooting was streamlined into the palms of our hands, directly from the source.

We were seeing videos that looked like ones we have taken in our own classrooms, in a lockdown that we find ourselves practicing every month. It could have been our school, our teachers and our peers. Though school shootings are hardly unique, Parkland brought a new sense of personality to the situation, resonating deeply with students in our own community and around the country.

“When you see that video proof, it lasts a lot longer in people’s minds than just a simple statement,” said Stoneman Douglas student Delaney Tarr in an interview with CBS News.

Quickly after the tragedy, Parkland students such as Emma González and David Hogg became vocal on social media, and within a day, a grassroots movement was well underway. They turned their grief into action; they took the outpouring of “thoughts and prayers” and instead asked for legislation. Referred to as the “Never Again” movement, it is a fight for more gun control that dares to take on the National Rifle Association (NRA), which students and activists blame for the lack of legislation against guns.

“With Sandy Hook, the children can’t speak on it; they’re too young. But we’re the generation of social media,” said Stoneman Douglas senior Alex Robinson, in a story she wrote for MTV News. “It’s a totally different world than when Columbine happened. Teenagers are the most powerful people [right now] because we have social media on our side. That’s what kids in our generation are bringing to the table: We’re bringing change that people want to see happen.”

The students have already seen some of the direct effects of their activism: After lobbying on Twitter for corporations to cut their ties with the NRA, more than 20 companies, including Delta and Hertz, have done away with their connections to the NRA. Dick’s Sporting Goods has also taken a stand in response to the online surge of support for more gun control by announcing on Twitter that it would stop selling assault-style rifles in their stores and would only sell firearms to those 21 and older. In a second tweet, the sporting goods store also urged representatives to ban assault-style firearms, close the gun-show loophole and raise the national minimum age of firearms purchases to 21. As one of the largest firearms distributors in America, Dick’s, along with Walmart—which has also raised the minimum age of purchase to 21—has taken a massive step for the movement. Most notably, there were no rallies outside of stores, or formal press releases from the companies that pulled out of deals with the NRA. Everything was done through social media.

Survivors and activists are using Twitter as the base platform for this movement. They’re tweeting lists of the companies with ties to the NRA and their contact information. They’re also promoting the March for Our Lives, a march for gun control in Washington, D.C., on March 24. A website has been created for this march, and an app has been designed to help people get in contact with their representatives, gain information about what is going on within Congress and share their opinions on various bills being proposed on Capitol Hill.

Signing virtual petitions, direct-messaging legislators and gaining traction for the movement: These actions have consumed MSD students and Never Again supporters, as they do whatever they can to maximize their presence on social media.

They’re also posting and tweeting with President Trump in mind.

“I know he’s listening,” said MSD student Alex Wind in an interview with CNN. “And if he doesn’t take action, the Stoneman students will pop up in the wake of the next shooting, and the next, and the next, gaming the system to their advantage until something gives.”

For students at WHS, the Parkland incident felt more real and frightening than past school shootings. Not only did students feel like they were in that very classroom because of the videos they had access to, but they also saw countless posts on social media responding to it.

“I have seen videos of the shooting and this just makes you think how scary this can be,” said WHS sophomore Mia Kochis.

WHS junior Caitlin Amman agreed with Kochis. “By seeing all of this stuff on social media, the shooting seems more real to me,” Amman said.

Many WHS students felt the biggest takeaway from these videos was that it looked like it could be our own high school.

“In the video that I watched that the student took on their Snapchat, not only did their classroom look exactly like ours, but the students who were screaming and hiding under the desks in the classroom looked exactly like us,” said WHS junior Sydney Harding.

With videos, Twitter posts and countless Instagram stories with pictures titled “Pray for Parkland,” students at WHS felt connected to MSD.

Social media outlets have allowed many of our classmates to take a stand on this issue. Whether it is writing their opinions about the situation on Facebook, or setting up an Instagram account for Wednesday’s event, students have tried to use their own social media in order to make a change.

“I follow all of the Parkland activists on social media and I’ve been posting things about it,” said WHS junior Alex Sumas. “I think that the Parkland student activists have done an amazing job. Emma González’s speech went viral and from there she started a Twitter and she just hit one million followers. She’s retweeting other Parkland students and creating awareness for them as a whole.”

WHS junior Sophia Pappalardo agreed that the Parkland students are using their social media effectively.

“They are creating movements and more people are becoming aware because of this,” said Pappalardo.

These Parkland students are doing something that has never been done before: They are taking matters into their own hands. Now, there are students who are leading the way, not adults.

“I think it is awesome that kids are stepping up instead of adults,” said Sumas. “They are the ones who it happened to, so they should be the ones to lead it.”

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