The Roads We Traveled This Summer

By: Julie Morgan   Rod Carveth  

In early 2018, a 19-year old male walked into Majory Stoneman Douglas High School (aka Parkland) armed with an automatic rifle and killed 17 students and staff, injuring another 17. This school shooting is similar to tragic school shootings, such as at Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Santa Fe. The Parkland students are unique in their digital activism savvy. Research suggests effective digital activists adopt the following strategies. First, coherent, cohesive and accessible presence must be developed online. The Parkland students accomplished that through using the highly accessible, popular platform of Twitter. Second, a person (or persons) must symbolically represent the movement. Students directly affected by the shooting -- David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez and Delaney Tarr – became the movement’s symbolic representations, and not only communicated with the movement, but were accessible (via news interviews and communication on Twitter) to followers. Third, movements must communicate positively-framed, easy-to-understand goals. The Parkland students proposed reasonable controls on guns, such as increasing age limits on gun ownership. Fourth, movement should promote justice for the victims. The students declared no student should fear harm simply by going to school. Fifth, the movement needs a clearly-identified oppositional force. This oppositional force was the National Rifle Association (NRA) and politicians who took donations from the NRA. Finally, the movement must pressure the opposition to defend its position. The Parkland students aggressively called out the NRA and its representatives to justify its loose gun policies. Our paper reviews how the Parkland students turned their crisis into a social movement.

Digital Activism, Social Media, Democracy
2019 Special Focus: The Future of Democracy in the Digital Age
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Julie Morgan

Professor, Communication Studies, Eastern University, United States
United States

Rod Carveth

Director of Graduate Studies, Morgan State University, United States
United States