I should preface everything I am about to say, by stating that nothing that I am about to list below made me more upset than the shooting itself. The fact that young children lost their lives in an act of such senseless violence, and in a state of terror upsets me to no end. The fact that their peers had to witness, overhear, and experience that same fear, and may be forever scarred and affected as a result upsets me as well. However, there were 4 things that truly struck me about the aftermath of this shooting that made me upset as well.
I apologize in advance. This will be long, bear with me.
First, it happened.
After the initial news alert on my cellphone, I was unsure how to even begin to talk about the events of December 14, 2012. Not only was it as gruesome and unexpected as the events that took place in Aurora, Columbine, Virginia Tech and other shootings, but it involved children: children about to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah (apologies if misspelled), Kwanzaa, and even the new year. Like many Americans, I turned to the news and stared in horror at the live broadcast detailing the events as information became available. Like many Americans, I tweeted at hashtag ‘#PrayForNewtown’ instead of ‘#CTShooting’ (I felt it was insensitive to use more than one, much less one that didn’t even mention the town). Like many other Americans, I texted my parents and friends to make sure they were ok: that no one they knew had lost their son or daughter that morning.
Misinformation and Assumption
The first thing I noticed was an all-too-familiar fascination the media had with giving the shooter a name and a face as soon as possible. So fast, that they not only sent false information about the shooter’s name, they even sent around a picture, and without verifying and information, convinced the nation it was Ryan Lanza in record time: ruining his reputation amongst his peers and forcing him to delete all his social media channels to hide from the wrath of millions of misinformed users. Even my advisor from college, David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun, went onto Reliable Sources and shared his outrage of this mistake.
Mashable seemed to be the first new channel to pick up on Ryan’s pleas of innocence on his Facebook, and took a submitted screenshot to print, hoping to set other media sources straight, but the damage had already been done. After it was discovered that it was in fact Adam, his brother, not Ryan that was thought to be the main suspect, Fast Company quickly released a story about the misinformation, saying, “Facebook doesn’t kill people. The media using Facebook kills people’s reputations.”
The second thing that upset me, was how other media channels conducted themselves in the wake of the tragedy, most notably Kmart. Similar to @CelebBoutique and Kenneth Cole who had abused trending hastags in previous incidents, Kmart managed to associate a sales initiative with a national tragedy. However, unlike Kenneth Cole and @CelebBoutique, Kmart was fully aware #PrayForNewtown and #CTShooting were associated with the tragedy, and were trying to make a statement offering condolences. Their error? At the end of the tweet, behind the associated tag, their promotional hashtag #Fab15Toys stood out like a sore thumb as a shameless way to promote themselves in the same breath.
This not only enraged users, it enraged so many that Kmart was forced to delete the tweet and make a public apology. On the other side of the spectrum, handles such as @BeautyHigh continued to spew sales tweets in rapid-fire succession (roughly a tweet every 3 minutes). Without so much as a single mention of condolence, this handle and several other handles seemed determined to shamelessly promote themselves, seemingly unaware that followers like me were more concerned with the mental state of surviving elementary students, not a stupid discount on their stupid handbag.
The Elephant In The Room
The third thing that upset me was a major gap in the entire conversation: Cindy Gallop posted an article by Role Reboot detailing how we think about those who commit these crimes, and how statistically these offenders are white, privileged and male. In incidences like the Virginia Tech shooting, the race and financial status of the shooter is attributed in news reports to the reasons for the violent acts. In the case of the Sandy Hook Elementary, none of these factors were discussed. In most major shootings where the gunman was a white male, the idea of entitlement, opportunity, and a sense of ownership are left completely undiscussed. Instead, we find scapegoats like violent video games, violent music, and any other opportunistic stimuli that fits the mold.
In the wake of Columbine, Marilyn Manson was targeted as one of those scapegoats, his goth subculture music labeled the true culprit. I love Marilyn Manson, and I have no intention of shooting anyone. Similarly, in this situation, it was mentioned that (at the time the misinformed press’s suspect) Ryan Lanza’s love of violent video games had played in a part in him going to the school to commit the crime. I can tell you right now, I know a lot (I mean A LOT) of gamers I could list who are WCG-level first person shooters experts and would never dream of shooting a real person. Hell, I even know a Dead or Alive pro who would never hit a person, and as a Mario Kart 64 lover, I have no intention of throwing bananas or turtle shells at other drivers, nor am I prone to road rage.
An Obsession With Guns
Finally, what upset me most in the aftermath was the onslaught of gun control petitions that flooded my inbox within the next few days. As if I’d even had time to process that small children had been shot before Christmas, someone had the audacity to ask me to sign a petition about gun control. What upsets me most this, is that much like other incidences of extreme violence involving guns, I’m of the opinion that the first and foremost issue we must face is what drives people to fire them…not the weapons themselves. In a post that began to go viral on Facebook, a statement by ‘Morgan Freeman'(later reported to be a hoax, but nevertheless still poignant) detailed how we must focus on mental illness rather than weapons in the aftermath of heinous crimes committed by disturbed teens and young adults. Soon after, an article entitled “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mom” followed suit, confirming my belief: a mother living with a mentally ill son who was prone to violence poured her heart across the internet, asking people to think of the illness first, not the guns. Instead of sending me stupid petitions about gun reform, how about sending me a joint petition meant to address both?
So What Now?
In the wake of this and other tragedies, I can only hope that we can facilitate conversations that will help to prevent acts of violence like this from happening again: this means discussing mental illness seriously, having real conversations with both the young and old about what causes individuals to commit violence, and a reform of how news is presented and discussed overall. Additionally, corporations need to stay on top of news, operate under the best of practices on social media, and be more sensitive to their audiences. In time, if we properly discuss these incidences taking into account all factors, both real and hyped, we may be able to actually prevent them from happening. Until then, we need to not just re-evaluate gun control, violent stimuli, and point fingers: we need real change, and we need it now.