By Kiana Lei Yap | Collegian Opinion Columnist
After a harrowing event like the recent mass shooting in Florida, it seems to be an indication of our technological age that everyone goes straight to social media. This reaction is becoming an empty exercise, filled with as much hot air as a politician.
Some believe that politically-fueled gibes on social media are inappropriate so soon—as early as hours after such an event. Others use the time and platform to bring awareness to U.S. gun law policy changes that need to take place. Although political arguments on social media after tragedies are inevitable, they fundamentally brings about national divisiveness. These often emotionally-fueled arguments disregard education on current gun laws and tout arguments based on virtue signaling rather than evidence.
According to a Pew Research Center poll published in September 2017 by Elisa Shearer and Jeffrey Gottfried, 67 percent of Americans obtain their daily news via social media. Of the two-thirds of Americans that use Facebook, 45 percent of them get their news on the site, while 18 percent of Americans follow YouTube for news, and 11 percent go to Twitter. While users are getting their news information, they’re simultaneously forming strong opinions and voicing them on these openly interactive platforms.
Although we all have a right to free speech, the immediacy with which individuals use social media to place blame on lawmakers while throwing around the ambiguous term “gun control” is inappropriate. They fuel an already discordant argument on what the future state of the Second Amendment will be.
Our nation needs less of this kind of political divisiveness, especially if we are to seek pragmatic and fair policy changes to our current gun laws in light of mass shootings—even if no one is certain as to what those changes will look like. Tweeting “#GunControl” or posting a status on the need for “gun control” means nothing to the affected families if no concrete legislation is proposed or passed. It’s nothing more than creating a “right” group and “wrong” group through virtue signaling.
A more useful way to engage with social media after these types of tragedies is to educate the American public on the current gun laws in place and what exactly allowed this event to happen.
If the 67 percent of Americans who obtain their daily news from social media are only following sites or accounts that cater to their political views, the information on current U.S. gun laws and their contemporary political history will be biased, too. That won’t serve the families who are demanding reform.
It’s inevitable that users will have impassioned online debates, but it is only appropriate to have them when they create meaningful dialogue instead of decrying policymakers and government officials.
After mass tragedies, celebrities are often the first to take to Twitter to boast of their solidarity with grieving families and blame government officials and gun-owner organizations for their responsibility in the shootings. Actor Mark Ruffalo tweeted, “Prayers without accordant action are silent lies told to oneself, heard by no God, amounting to nothing. Action is the language of truth, the prayers of the Saints,” in an attempt to call out all-prayer, no-work politicians.
Actress Patricia Arquette tweeted, “If people can blame drug dealers for the drug problem then we can blame the [National Rifle Association] for the mass shooting problem.” Conversely, government officials, President Trump, and Vice President Pence felt the need to immediately send out “thoughts and prayers” tweets to also show the American public that they aren’t heartless individuals.
Virtue signaling-oriented tweets like these foster political divisiveness. This divisiveness is the last thing our nation needs amidst a tragedy if we are to genuinely and proactively hash out solutions to practical gun law reform.
After mass shootings, social media platforms become places that further breed division in our nation. They become places of blatant disrespect for the grieving families, where the individuals engage with social media for the sake of arguing or blaming. Those calling for “gun control” on social media do just that: call for “gun control.” But, then again, God forbid anyone politicize a tragedy so soon.
All individuals—citizens, celebrities, and our President included—who directly interact with platforms like Twitter and Facebook are left in this odd limbo of premature or ill-informed politicization of tragedies while wanting to signal to their followers that they care by sending “thoughts and prayers” to grieving families. More than anything, what most social media arguments after mass tragedies breed is more political division, which is a gross disservice to suffering families who are desperate for politicians to reform America’s current gun laws.