Ding… ding… ding… ding ding ding ding.
As I crawled into bed with my beautiful wife to watch the next episode of “Scandal” my phone began acting up. What began as a slow trickle of notifications soon turned into a complete deluge, which made me question if perhaps I had entered a scandal myself.
“You ignorant piece of crap.”
“Move to Africa, you idiot. You don’t respect our military”
“I hope we never cross paths. If we do, you will regret it”.
“Long live the 2nd Amendment… You libtard!”
Literally dozens of messages were piling up in my Facebook and Twitter inboxes from individuals across the country, whom I never communicated with in my life. And although many were positive, the majority of them made me question whether I may have murdered the Pope in my sleep the previous evening.
I quickly figured out the messages were in response to a Tweet I had made out of frustration, following the Stoneman Douglas massacre a few days prior in Parkland, Florida that took the lives of 17 innocent teenagers.
“If a gunman can walk into a military base like Fort Hood with 100% of the populace ‘highly trained’ in firearms use, and still murder 13 people with a pistol, do you honestly think that 20% of teachers having a gun is going to stop the next killer who may have an AR-15,” my tweet read.
After finding out that the limits of Twitter’s 240-characters caused a small sliver of my followers to take the message the wrong way, I quickly wrote a followup post to clarify that I wasn’t ignorant to the facts.
“I do want to apologize if this tweet offended anyone. The tweet may have sounded as if I meant all the soldiers were armed. They were not. This doesn’t change the fact that there were multiple armed guards at the base, a less powerful gun was used & teachers should not be armed!”
Within 24 hours the original tweet had been viewed over 5 million times, retweeted 50,000+ times and ‘liked’ 129,000 times, but it was on Facebook, where I never even posted a message pertaining to this hotly debated topic, that things really spiraled out of control. Numerous Facebook groups and ‘fan pages’ began taking screenshots of my single tweet and posting it for the world to see. One of these posts alone received over 180,000 shares, and who knows how many impressions. Clearly a vast number of people understood my message, even though they had no access to the follow-up tweet I made explaining that these individuals were unarmed.
For the record, the message I was trying to convey with the original tweet was as follows:
The military understands that individuals in a non-combat setting should not be armed at all times, even though they are highly trained in firearm use, and are among men and women who are also trained in such use. Meanwhile the President of the United States thinks that teachers, who are not even close to as ‘adept’ in firearm use, and who are surrounded by hundreds of children not familiar with firearms, should carry guns into the classroom.
Within a couple of days, the original tweet, devoid of the subsequent tweets I made in order to clarify my position, was continuing to be taken out of context, and now I was being used as a verbal punching bag by those on the right. In fact, Katie Pavlich of Fox News retweeted my tweet with her own attack towards me:
After explaining to her that I had never stated that the men and women attacked at Fort Hood were armed and that she was taking the tweet out of context, I also thanked her for being the 56,001st retweet of my message.
Not only was I now being attacked on Facebook for a tweet which was taken out of context, but the entire narrative that I had hoped to create with the original post began to fade. Now it was an “Us Vs. Them” battle where my post was being used to attack those seeking further gun legislation. A deluge of messages continued pouring in, claiming that I was a ‘habitual liar,’ even though my original tweet was completely factual.
An alleged victim of the Fort Hood attack was next in line to try and make me feel like an ungrateful American. He posted the following, and the attacks on myself ramped up even further:
Now, not only did the narrative take a complete 180, but false facts, which those attacking me claimed I had been using, actually were being put to use. Bill Clinton DID NOT disarm the military. In fact, the directive to do so came under the George H.W. Bush administration’s Department of Defense in February of 1992. It was then implemented during Clinton’s first term in office. Clinton had no say in the matter, and neither did Bush. It was the Department of the Army who implemented this directive via regulation 190-14 in March of 1993.
I want to make it clear that I have an enormous amount of respect for the men and women who risk their lives day-in and day-out to protect the freedoms we enjoy in this nation. I also want to make it perfectly clear that I’m not saying social media is to blame for my situation here or the intensifying debate between those who want further gun legislation and those who want the status quo to remain. In fact, if it were not for social media, the current appetite for change would not be close to as strong as it is today.
Take for example, Stoneman Douglas surviver Emma Gonzalez. Most of you likely recognize this young woman as the face of change in regards to the current gun control debate. In a matter of just a couple weeks Ms. Gonzalez has accumulated a following on Twitter of over 1.1 million people. This absolutely blows away (no pun intended) the Twitter following of 602,000 that the NRA has accumulated over the last 9+ years.
I have personally been in communication with Emma Gonzalez, an extraordinary individual who is strong, driven, and ready to move America forward. I asked Ms. Gonzalez for her thoughts on what social media has meant to her and her recently found purpose, as she plans what will certainly be the largest movement ever, seeking to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings, March For Our Lives.
Gonzalez told me, “Everyone who has been a part of March For Our Lives, on camera or online, is so thankful for the platform that social media allows. It’s made it so much easier to get our voices heard in such a dark time, and as teenagers we know how to utilize it best to our advantage.”
While those on both the right and the left attack social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter for spreading “Fake News” and blurring the line between fact and fiction, it is without a doubt one of the most powerful tools mankind has ever invented. Social media enables those who would not have a voice, to find that voice and yell it across the entire planet.
The voices of people like Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, and their classmates from Stoneman Douglas are now just as loud as some of the most followed politicians, organizations and media personalities on Earth. Depending on which side of the gun debate you are on, this can either be viewed as a good or bad thing I assume, but when the voices of those impacted by gun violence can be heard, I can only view it as a positive event.
As one can see, social media has its place in this debate, but one also has to realize that the context of the content you are consuming, as well as the facts or falsehoods within that content need to be thoroughly researched. There is a reason Russia has been able to impact the minds of Americans on social media, and that is because many of us are too lazy, too busy and too trusting to actually fact check the material we are consuming and sharing. As a society, we can not outsource the process of critical thinking to our favorite social media personality, news organization or politician. We must not forget how to research facts and develop an evidence-based hypothesis reliant on facts and not conspiracy theory or hearsay.