Stoneman Douglas, Social Media and Cynicism
Issue   |   Tue, 03/06/2018 - 20:56

The most recent mass shooting, and it’s tragic that I even need to say “most recent,” was close to home — literally. Stoneman Douglas is 20 minutes away from my high school; we competed against them in sports. My best friend went to camp with a teacher who was murdered.When I first heard about the shooting in my high school friend group chat, I was shocked, but my day continued. I told the people at Amherst who I was with at the time and looked up articles about it, but felt numb. 17 people were murdered, though the number was not finalized at the time, and I felt desensitized. How is it that I may have met people from this school, gone to newspaper and sports competitions with them and did not feel anything? I imagined myself during fire drills in high school, joking around with my friends, never expecting to be a potential victim of a school shooting.

Then, the social media torrent came through:“Pray for MSD” frames were added to profile photos on Facebook and stories were posted on Instagram “demanding” policy and change. Ironically, that’s when the scope of the situation hit me, but instead of feeling sad, I felt angry. Misplaced or not, this anger was channeled towards the outpouring of social media posts. People who I know voted for Donald Trump and supported Florida senator Marco Rubio were now praying or demanding change from leaders who ran on platforms opposing any common sense gun control laws. I tried to be optimistic: “even if they voted for Trump, maybe this means now they’ve realized, maybe now something will actually change.” My anger stemmed mostly from my belief that these social media associates of mine were posting and were then going to let the horror of the mass shooting subside, like I was afraid I would too, in the next week. Their civic duty was fulfilled by voicing support that would then disappear, both literally and, so I thought, figuratively, in 24 hours.

Of course, the backlash on social media also contributed to my anger. To the people who say we cannot politicize this, I can agree with you in that this issue should cross party lines and we should all agree that we need gun control laws. But the truth is, it is political. Republicans in Congress refuse to denounce the National Rifle Association (NRA), and their supporters love the Second Amendment enough to be able to reframe this shooting as a need to address the mental health of the shooters, rather than limit their ability to purchase assault rifles. Yes, mental health awareness is important, but frankly, it seems like a red herring. The root of the issue is Americans’ access to war weapons designed to murder hundreds of human beings.

I waited to write this article. I waited to see if my cynical prediction would be validated; that these seemingly superficial social media posts would not translate into actual action. To be fair, I didn’t even know what kind of action would appease me: something, anything to show that this mass shooting would not just fade into oblivion. And surprisingly, there has been hope. A group of survivors from the shooting, led by my aforementioned friend’s cousin, Cameron Kasky, have come together to organize a movement titled “Never Again,” and they are organizing national “March for Our Lives” protests on March 24 to demand gun reform. They have been interviewed on national news, scheduled meetings with policy makers and were vocal in the recent CNN town hall, where Kasky asked Rubio, who receives millions of dollars from the NRA, if he would continue to accept donations from the organization. Rubio’s response was embarrassing but expected, and in a roundabout way, he responded that he would continue to accept donations but that he is ultimately the one who is making the decisions on the issues. He is as complicit as the 71 Florida state legislators who voted against banning assault rifles at the state level after the Douglas shooting. He will be in office until 2020, and I genuinely do not believe he will be voted out when his reelection comes around. So what can we do?

These students give me hope, yet they also allow me to remain remote, as if someone else is handling it. I think my recent ambivalence towards politics stems from the idea that I literally do not know what I could do in this situation to be effective at making change. I called my senators to voice my support for gun control, and now what? I so desperately want change; I want these students’ efforts to not be for nothing. I’m critical of the social media posts, but my current feelings of purposelessness have made me realize that maybe one of the most important actions we can take is to ensure that no one forgets this shooting, whether through social media or marching; that when the Facebook frames expire, this shooting does not go to the backburner as the next mass murderer purchases assault rifles and bump stocks.