The Sound of Social Media Silence

Four versions of illustration of a woman gasping with headphones, in four different colors

The sound when social media goes silent is loud.

Our country’s latest mass shooting, we saw on Friday may come as news to the group of Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, whose survival of last year’s shooting at their high school, quickly transformed them into gun control activists. Their student-led demonstration “March For Our Lives” stretched across the U.S., garnering at least 1.2 million marchers, their tech-savviness sent the hashtag #NeverAgain trending across all social media platforms, but starting on Thursday, in honor of the 17 victims who lost their lives just one year ago, they went quiet.

“Going off the grid,” as people call it (as almost an accomplishment), serves many purposes, most self-reflective. But what does it mean when we do it for others? The unforgettable 6-minute and 20-second speech, Stoneman Douglas student Emma Gonzalez delivered at the nationwide “March For Our Lives” protest in Washington, D.C., included a period of silence that lasted several minutes. Her goal, for the hundreds of thousands in the audience to feel what it felt like in the time the gunman opened fire, killed 17, and blended in with other students in his escape, has now extended as a moment of silence on social media.

Better than saying anything, this silence serves as another powerful message to all of us about gun control. Given we traditionally first hear about “active shooter” reports via Twitter and the like, it makes sense why the students abandoned social media outlets in remembrance of their friends and teachers. And I am glad they did. In the time they were silent, their blackout helped to delay any news about another mass shooting in America.

Just one day after 17 died last year in the hands of a 19-year-old at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, remembered gravely as the “Valentine’s Day Shooting,” a water valve manufacturing warehouse in the Chicago suburb of Aurora, Illinois, became a similar scene of the crime on Friday.

Friday’s shooting, which killed five – including an intern in the Henry Pratt Company HR department reporting to his first day on the job – marked the 39th mass shooting in 2019, according to not for profit corporation Gun Violence Archive (GVA), “an online archive of gun violence incidents collected from over 2,500 media, law enforcement, government and commercial sources daily.”