Changing the World Through #NeverAgain

July 30, 2018

When we look at what has happened in the five months that have passed since the shooting of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School took place in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day earlier this year, we’re left with a clear-cut vision of the difference a few people can make in promoting positive change out of the worst of circumstances.

If the situation had played out differently, David Hogg and his sister Lauren would not have survived the shooting, and we would not have the short, gripping first-hand account of the shooting and its aftermath they provide though #Never Again: A New Generation Draws the Line, recently published by Random House.

The basic details have been abundantly covered: 17 students and others on campus that day were killed by a former student. An Instagram video taken and posted by a student and numerous text messages provided some of the earliest, most graphic images and descriptions of what was taking place. The survivors immediately began asking what they could do to help stop the cycle of violence involving shootings on school campuses, followed by meaningless expressions of sorrow and prayer, followed by inaction, and then followed by more shootings. David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, and other Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) students began meeting within days to create a plan of action, which led to their formation of Never Again MSD (also known as #NeverAgain and #EnoughIsEnough); spawned the global March for Our Lives movement that helped organize events in more than 850 cities worldwide the following month; and has also spawned the Vote for Our Lives movement currently mobilizing young (prospective) voters across the United States in an effort to respond positively to a situation that they—and many of us—feel is completely intolerable and could more effectively be addressed than it has up to this point.

The human part of the story comes through loudly and clearly in the book, as this excerpt (written by Lauren) shows: On the night of the day that the Parkland shooting took place, “I basically passed out. I couldn’t physically stay awake. The same thing happened the next night and the next night and on like that for weeks. During the day I’d have to take naps, then I’d pass out at eight or nine every night and wake up in the middle of the night, so I’d start the next day exhausted again. It’s still hard for me to get a normal night’s sleep. So many of the kids at my school are like that. I never thought trauma could take that kind of toll, but it does” (p. 68).

Many have expressed shocking cruel and brutal disbelief in online posts that students as young as these writer-activists are could help mobilize and inspire the level of action they have already inspired through social media platforms and other resources—boycotts that caused “big companies from Delta Airlines to Hertz” to distance themselves from the NRA; gun-control legislation in New York, Vermont, (Deerfield) Illinois, Florida, and Maryland; and those marches themselves (pp. 124-126): “Then we left Dr. Phil and went home with friends to our old neighborhood, and I had to go to sleep again because I was falling asleep even in the car. The next morning, really early, something like four a.m., my phone started buzzing and buzzing,” Lauren writes (p. 81). “I finally got up and looked at Instagram to see why people were on there, and I saw all these white supremacists and neo-Nazis saying horrible stuff on my Instagram account, like You’re going to hell, you’re an actress, your whole family is going to hell. There was one that read, Your whole school is not real, you’re all actors. I thought that was just so bizarre that someone would even think that. My whole school?”

The narrative throughout the book responds to that disbelief. David describe how what they learned at home from their father (a retired FBI agent) about remaining as calm as possible under the most trying of circumstances helped carry them through the moments during which the shooting was occurring. David also writes about how his experience gathering and posting news reports through coursework he was completing led him to actually take videos of himself describing what was occurring and sending those for posting before that initial day of horror was over. Both acknowledge the positive impact their instructors and coursework had in preparing them for their transition from learner to activist—a much-needed tribute to what is good in our educational system at a time when so many critics complain bitterly about how ineffectual that system is. And they explicitly acknowledge how that magnificent community of learning pulled together in ways that brought friends together to apply what they had learned so they could attempt to change a world that so clearly is far from the world of their dreams.

March for Our Lives, San Francisco (3/24/18)

The #NeverForget chapter at the end of the book provides a resource we would do well to read and reread on a regular basis if we do not want to lose sight of the human tragedy at the heart of this political movement: a list of some of the people who “have been killed in gun violence” since 1999, along with brief, often-poignant descriptions of those who are no longer with us. It’s difficult to imagine being able to read those descriptions without feeling a tremendous sense of loss and a desire to be part of the community attempting to respond positively to those losses with more than expressions of sorrow and prayer.

What we’re left with at the end of the final chapter is an inspiring call to action that again circles back to the importance of a well-functioning educational system that prepares our learners/youngest citizens to use all the resources available to them to not surrender to despair: “We learned to love people for what they are instead of hating them for what they’re not. And like the namesake of our high school—Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who changed her world by a full-on engagement with it, every day, as a journalist, a suffragette, and conservationist—we are learning to change the world by presuming that we can” (p. 141).

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in Winter/Spring 2019. This is the thirteenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.

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Changing the World Through Imagery: Snapchat, Instagram, and Flickr

July 19, 2018

Ephemeral moments, briefly captured and briefly shared through imagery, are at the heart of Snapchat—a social media platform used by nearly 75 percent of teens in America, a Pew Research Center report released in May 2018 suggests; it is a tool that is designed to playfully combine text captions and imagery through a here today, gone tomorrow approach. What you post there is generally meant to last no longer than 24 hours before disappearing. The tremendously world-changing impact a Snapchat post can have, however, became clear in early 2018, when a teenaged Snapchat user captured the horrendous moments of the mass shooting of students, by a former student, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

This was a snap that did not—and will not—disappear. Copied and reposted online and included in mainstream media coverage of the tragedy, it has taken on a life of its own; was part of a student-driven online social media presence that helped spur the March for Our Lives (#MarchForOurLives) protest movement that has attracted participation from students and adults in more than 800 cities worldwide and its companion initiative, Vote for Our Lives (#VoteForOurLives); and, within one month of the shooting, had produced gun-control legislation in Oregon and Florida unlike any that previously came out of years of fruitless conversations between those in favor of somehow limiting access to guns and those who firmly believe that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution provides absolute, uncontrolled access to guns.

Watching that snap or looking at March for Our Lives images on the Instagram and Flickr  photo-sharing sites takes you to the heart of one of the most divisive debates in America today. You don’t just see people affected by an issue seeking some sort of positive resolution: you see the debate itself playing out in sometimes spiteful, vicious comments between those who find themselves on opposite sides of a debate that was producing few concrete results—until that snap went viral, the students became advocates with often very sophisticated approaches to the social (and mainstream) media tools available to them, and those students joined the voices of those insisting that “enough is enough” and that a positive response to the most awful of situations had to come sooner than later.

The fact that Snapchat was the initial vehicle for providing painfully jarringly intimate glimpses into another tragedy unfolding was probably something that those creating Snapchat could never have predicted when they created a platform for capturing and briefly disseminating ephemeral moments.

“I don’t think [Facebook Co-founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer] Mark Zuckerberg ever dreamed that Facebook would be involved in presidential election scandals and the fake-news cycle. Nor do I think that Snapchat leadership pictured teens snapping violent and traumatic injury in the midst of a horrific crisis,” Samantha Becker, the independent consultant and President of SAB Creative & Consulting, says. “It’s not necessarily something you envision from the get-go, but it makes sense that social networks would be effective vehicles for spreading news, exposing real-life events in progress, etc. But there can definitely be backlash. I’m thinking about the Logan Paul YouTube scandal from a couple months ago, where he showed footage from a suicide. People are rightfully concerned that social media can glamorize the tragic. It’s a very delicate balance and there is a fine line between sharing something that spurs positive action vs. negative reactions. The in-situ experience of social media means that people aren’t always thinking before they post—and they can be greatly penalized for that or end up inspiring the wrong kind of action.

“I don’t have a solution for how and where to draw the line, but we could use more guidance around that and more ways to educate forthcoming generations and provide proper digital literacy training.”

Briefly tracing the early, rapid growth of #MarchForOurLives provides a strong reminder that specific social media platforms do not operate in a vacuum; they are part of an overall combination of traditional and relatively new media formats available to those who want to take the small- and large-scale steps that can lead to changing the world. #MarchForOurLives at least in part grew rapidly because those Snapchat images inspired action in a variety of ways: through mainstream and cable news programs; postings on other social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, and YouTube; fundraising efforts coordinated by the nonprofit March for Our Lives Action Fund and others; and the personalization of the story through Parkland student-activists including Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg. In fact, it is the personalization of that message through the voices of Gonzalez, Hogg, and others that draw us and inspire us to action through the power of storytelling—through Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and book-length explorations that bring these stories to people who might otherwise be overwhelmed and be unable to see that the road from observer to activist can be traveled in many different ways and in relatively short periods of time. Hogg and his sister Lauren appear to understand this implicitly: less than six months after the shooting in Parkland, they were able to publish #NeverAgain, a call to action published by Random House Trade Paperbacks.

 N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in Winter/Spring 2019. This is the twelfth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


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