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…