February 17, 2019

One Year After Parkland

By Melissa Ryan

This week marked the one year anniversary of the Parkland mass shooting. I’ve spent time this week reading profiles of how the students, parents, and teachers are coping. BBC News ran a profile on Cameron Kasky, one of the surviving students who founded the March for Our Lives but has since left the organization, that’s especially haunting:

“”After the shooting, I found myself on television almost 24/7 for a month or two and I found myself sky-rocketed to this position where so many people were looking at what I had to say and were listening to me,” he says.

“I think the concept that I could make gun control happen was seductive. And I started to see myself as the person that could make gun control happen. As if it was me. Not as if it was a large push for legislative change in this country. I had this messiah-like concept that I could do this. And I got so high off of that.”

When all this was happening, Kasky was only 17, and he found it hard to deal with. “I spent so long in front of cameras that I forgot how to be a person,” he says.”

The Parkland students, especially the ones who chose to speak out on social media, will forever be memes online, both for the Frog Squad who put endless amounts of energy into harassing and vilifying them but also for the progressive movement. The students used social media, and the attacks from the right, as a way to galvanize support around the gun control movement. Along the way they’ve grieved, fought, organized, and lived their lives largely in the public eye. All this after living through a horrific violent tragedy. It’s a hell I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

From a disinformation perspective Parkland was a watershed moment. Legacy media seemed to finally grasp how they were continually being duped by trolls with alternative narratives after every mass shooting (Though not before one network asked one of the survivors to confirm on live TV that she wasn’t a crisis actor.) Tech companies were eventually shamed into taking disinformation and conspiracy related content about the students (most of whom were minors!) down. A conversation began about the National Rifle Association’s own role in spreading extremism and disinformation. And again, the students themselves, and their mastery of social media shone a bright light on all of it.

One year after Parkland the NRA is broke and Alex Jones, the most influential driver of “crisis actor” conspiracies has been kicked off most of the tech platforms. YouTube has finally promised to stop recommending conspiracy videos to users. Facebook and Twitter are finally removing more content created by bad actors (they use the term “inauthentic”) that was used to spread conspiracies and disinformation and harass the Parkland student survivors from their platforms. Parkland was at the very least least a catalyst for all of these changes, and a primary driver for some of them.

One thing that hasn’t changed are federal laws around guns. Since Parkland 1,200 children have been killed by guns. Teenage journalists, working with The Trace, The Miami Herald, and McClatchy News, have written an obituary for each victim and compiled them for a project called Since Parkland.

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© Image courtesy of Mobilus In Mobili, Flickr