Social Media and the Spectacle of Gun Violence

By David Graber

Do our responses do anything?

With every new school shooting comes a warranted outcry from gun control activists and an equally vehement reaction from gun loving reactionaries. The “left” argues that now more than ever is the time to ban access to military-grade weapons. The “right” counters that now is the time for prayer, not capitalizing off of tragedy. One can follow this pattern to the repeated conclusion that both sides cancel each other out, change nothing, and develop amnesia until the next shooting.`

This negation of opposites is mirrored by social media activists who try to change the world by bickering online. The prevalence of heated arguments spikes after political mishaps, especially gun-related tragedies like the recent shooting in Florida. But the noble attempts of online activists suffer a fatal flaw: they mistake a means of political expression (opinionated online posts) as an end in itself (achieving more stringent gun control). This misunderstanding of expression-as-change does little to topple the current power system which protects the NRA lobbyists’ wet dream of bankrolled political decisions. If the United States is to do away with those pesky assault rifles then we must overcome the false perception that a citizen’s political action is satisfied by activity online.

Two-dimensional platforms of protest lack the political efficacy necessary for substantive change.

Raising awareness, taken alone, is not change. Go ahead and share articles to your friends’ pages and argue with an anonymous NRA zealot in the comments sections. More often than not, actions like these are self-congratulatory and wholly unfruitful. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that these limited actions are bringing about real change.

To what limits, then, should we use our social media for political ends?

My attempt at answering: to the extent it that it helps us come into contact with reality. To guarantee the greatest turnout at a rally or protest. To tell friends to write their representatives. To get in touch with activists you otherwise would never have met.

Ask yourself what effect your online political activity has had besides helping you curate the aesthetic of a social media activist.

Too many well-intentioned people maintain the misconception that appearance yields change. If you, your friends, and everyone in your periphery share the same political sentiments, you begin to think that change will come about naturally. Social media can be a great tool for changing the world. Unfortunately, most people don’t go far enough with it to really change anything.


CurrentLara Miloslavsky