When the “Children” Speak for Themselves: The Tactical Use of Social Media by the Survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting


  • Jesse S. Cohn
  • Rhon Teruelle


"Maybe — just maybe — we are changing the political calculus,” Paul Begala speculated in the months following the massacre of twenty children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. That calculus had been largely fixed in place since the midterm elections of 1994: gun control, it was reckoned, was a losing proposition, and legislators who wanted to keep their seats had better stay out of the sights of the National Rifle Association (Begala 2013). While reform measures passed in Connecticut with relative speed (Foderaro & Hussey 2018), Begala’s was largely a losing wager. As it turned out, even this moment of perhaps maximal horror – few subjects, as Lee Edelman has pointed out, elicit as much “social consensus” as the importance of protecting “the Child, whose innocence solicits our defense” (2004) – failed to produce any substantive change in the direction of increased regulation of firearms. Indeed, in the wake of Newtown, the gun lobby succeeded in rolling back existing law across much of the country: not only were an assault weapons ban and a universal background check provision defeated in the Senate (Keneally 2017), but as PBS’ Frontline noted, by the end of 2013, “27 states [had] passed 93 laws expanding gun rights” (Childress 2013). In short, few were expecting that the Valentine’s Day 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida would provide any new occasion for “changing the political calculus.” Yet in the weeks after the shooting occurred, a group of students who survived the attack launched an ambitious social media campaign that has arguably already succeeded where so many others have failed: they have brought the issue of gun control back on the national political agenda, and have challenged politicians, policy makers, and even the NRA in their battle to address gun violence in America. Even more unexpectedly, they