Almost one year ago to the day, after spending a day at the March for Our Lives, I woke up the next morning and jotted down a few paragraphs and posted it on Facebook largely breaking down the difference between how millennial kids and the rest of us were processing the aftermath of the Parkland shooting on social media and why.
While I have had several posts go viral in the past — this one was probably the one that by far became the most contentious. What was shocking was not how it spread like wildfire or the first 48 hours of widespread support. The shocking thing was how quickly it devolved into a cesspool of some of the worst online human behavior I have seen before or since on Facebook. I know because I spent an entire week in the thicket of the comment section engaging the worst of them in a comment section that topped out at well over 2,000 comments.
Here’s the thing — it wasn’t just your garden variety edgelords and shitposters just trying to fish for liberal tears (although they had a strong showing). An alarming amount of the most disgusting stuff was coming from some of the most completely average looking middle American white people imaginable. Not only could most of their timeline photos pass for set photography for a mayonnaise commercial or stock photos of a church bake sale — but a shocking amount of their timelines were littered with pictures of their own children, almost all of whom were in the age ranges of the Parkland victims or the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre. While I certainly have seen these same people dehumanize black and brown kids online with depressing frequency — what surprised me was that there was no transitive empathy for kids that looked exactly like their own — but instead a degree of vitriol and hate that I couldn’t have possibly anticipated. Simply put — their hatred of a perceived opposition political viewpoint eclipsed not only the horror of children gunned down in their desks in an American school almost imperceptibly different from the ones they sent their own kids to — but the basic response a parent would have to the suffering of children, even ones that looked just like theirs.
Incidentally — the other surprising thing was the number of people who had absolutely rabid, absolutist pro-gun views who not only didn’t own any guns — but had never even shot one. People who had no idea the sudden jarring sound of firing a projectile out of the end of their arm at 5,000 feet per second — or looked at the resultant impact in anything it went through, to say nothing of being able to comprehend what the damage of what that impact would look like on the flesh of a child, or what it would be like to watch it happen to a classmate a mere few feet away. People who didn’t know first hand what it felt like to hold a true instrument of death and administrate its very immediate violence.
The reason for all of this is pretty simple — and actually buttressed the principle thrust of my post — which is that people born before the turn of the century are simply much more impressionable online and given to a kind of reflexive tribalism that someone born after 2000 has a completely different immunity to.
A perfect example that played out in the comment section was the constant referencing to Tide Pods (this was the absolute height of the Tide Pod controversy). As a Gen Xer it took me that much longer to realize that the much of the Tide Pod challenge was predominantly an exercise by millennials to prove how Xers and Boomers will fall for almost anything they read online as long as it’s salacious enough and has the added bonus of reinforcing a pre-existing cognitive bias. The amount of unwitting Tide Pod self owns across the forest of comments was pretty impressive in scale.
Just recently (possibly because of it being the one year anniversary), that post started swimming to the top of people’s feeds again. It occurs to me it bears repeating. For years following one massacre after another in American streets — virtually no changes were made to existing gun laws. In the wake of Parkland — thanks largely to the activism of the Parkland students, 123 new American gun laws were passed.
One day — these kids are going to run this country, and for my money, it can’t come soon enough. My generation, and the generations before it have largely turned the internet into an absolute shithole where ironically, human knowledge goes to die an absolutely brutally toxic death. The fact that we are having to completely re-explain that the earth is round and that vaccines work to actual adults in the richest, most technologically evolved country in the history of the planet should be a far greater source of shame than it currently is. We at least know millennials are better internet citizens than we are — and hopefully, it makes them better real-world citizens as well.
For those of you who’d like to brave the wilds of the original post with its attendant comments section, you can reach it here. For those of you who’d like to read the source material without having your faith in humanity utterly destroyed, the original text is below.
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Wanna know why these little badasses aren’t afraid of you, me, public speaking, the NRA, or an army of internet trolls?
Because these kids have been beaten over the head with fear since the second they were born, which was right around or after 9/11. They’ve never lived in a country that wasn’t at war with some nebulous muslim enemy that was always around any corner. A war that wouldn’t be foughtby two armies wearing uniforms in some far away place — but rather a war that could show up anywhere, at any time right in their own neighborhood.
The terrorism they were promised though wasn’t the terrorism they got. instead — they’ve grown up in a country where with a frighteningly metronomic occurrence, some random fellow citizen — usually some young white male that looks an awful lot like the people they see every day, enters a public place and slaughters a group of people for no readily identifiable reason. The thought of someone calling them names on 4chan is the least of their fucking worries.
They’ve never known a world without high-speed internet, and have their entire lives had unfettered access to the world’s opinions and reactions. And while the rest of us see the world as these intractable tribal groups increasingly living in these sealed echo chambers — they see America for what it really is — a nation of highly impressionable consumers easily manipulated by good marketing with short attention spans and an extremely fluid belief system that is even more shallow than it is wide.
The difference between us and them — is they are smart enough to know they can win simply by waiting us out and staying on message. They’ve seen how easily a surprising amount of folks on both the right and the left have given up on their core beliefs just because shit got hard, or simply because the rate of outrage outpaced the outrage machine’s ability to adequately keep up with it to the point of solutions.
Which is why throughout the day yesterday, you never heard these kids mention either the Democratic or Republican parties by name. They went straight for the NRA.
They know this isn’t about the blue team vs. the red team, those are just the rubes. The marks in a carnival barker’s midway. They’ve been targeted marketed to long enough to know that the money calls the shots and that the NRA is just like every other corporation they’ve ever watched committing what it thought were invisible machinations on an unsuspecting consumer base.
These kids grew up in a different advertising environment than we did. One where they have always had the option to skip the commercials — and believe it or not — this gives them an advantage over everyone who hasn’t been able to their whole lives.
From the time they were born — they’ve been playing a cat and mouse game with corporate influencers that have chased them around every moment of their lives, and that they have always known were hunting them. The difference between these kids and older generations was they shrewdly deducted that corporations were more interested in using them to SELL things than BUY them.
And they are getting ready to turn that power on all of the people that clearly have not only failed to value THEIR lives, but life in general. Before they were even born — amercia had run out of world to conquer, and in that vacumn — it turned on it self. What they are inheriting isn’t a shining city on the hill, but rather a nihilist death cult at war with itself with no forseeable end in sight. Traditionally speaking 18-year-old American kids don’t cotton too well to being used as cannon fodder in someone else’s war, which is why this is starting to look and feel a lot like 1968.
The big difference will be if these kids turn this momentum into a voting electorate — which has been the failure of youth movements of the past.
For all of our sakes — I sure fucking hope they do.
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EPILOGUE + WARNING:
if you are one of those people who think that a grown adult, often with kids of their own, wouldn’t be capable of mocking the tragedy of the death of 17 children, and would be heartbroken by the knowledge of that — then i advise you stay out of the comments section of this post.
it is literally full of horrible people saying the most horrible things you can imagine about people having gone through this terror.
those of you who would like to join the rest of us civilized people in shaming them — come on in — this is a target rich troll hunting preserve like none other you’ve ever seen.