When we’re afraid of the extremes: A social media study

This past weekend, as news came out about the tragic shootings in Texas and Ohio, my social media started to fill up with thoughts about the reality of living in a world, or a country rather, where this kind of tragedy has become unsettlingly routine. This type of mass social response isn’t specific to just shooting events. It seems like recently, any major news cycle headline (ie: immigration, terrorism, North Korea, sexual violence, gender roles, etc. etc. etc.) has produced a cacophony of commentary as people take to social media to express, primarily, their fears.

I teach the occasional, elective, media class to 11th and 12th graders, and so I tend to try and view social media through an academic lens from time to time. This summer, these fears that people were expressing started to catch my attention 1.) because they were occurring en masse, and 2.) because if I dug into the comments of many of the original posts, I could find at least one dissenting comment that expressed a very real, yet very different and opposite sort of fear. And whether consciously, or sub consciously, those fears were motivating a lot more than just what people were writing online. It seemed evident that those deeply held fears could and would likely motivate physical behavior, world view, and voting habits.

I started collecting these fear responses as I saw them, in a little bit of a study on what people were actually willing to admit they were afraid of via social media. Though this is not a political blog, the issue of gun control and gun violence is undoubtedly politically charged, and I will try my best not to comment on one fear as better or worse than another fear. This blog is about understanding, mental health, self awareness, and talking about real issues, so I will also try to provide some general facts about the topic in order to hopefully dispel some fears, or give a slightly larger context to this complex issue.

All names and identifying information has been edited out from these comments to protect the original identity of the author.

In response to gun control and mass shootings: 

Fear #1 – Being caught in a mass shooting in a public place or school

  • “I’ve been taught since high school how to prepare an exit strategy if someone starts shooting, and I literally do this in every public place I go to.”
  • “I can’t be the only one who looks around at a concert or theater to figure out where I’d go if all hell breaks loose.”
  • “Guns might be a mental health issue, but I’m not scared to be in a space with a person on anti-psychotics. I’m scared to be in a space with a person on anti-psychotics who’s also carrying a gun.”
  • “I’ve never quite turned into a protector quite so fast. I got our group to our designated safe zone while waiting for instructions from police. It is disheartening, terrifying, and frankly distressing that in the midst of celebration, we became a part of another tragic headline.”
  • “This weekend’s headlines make me say enough. I’ve been in an active shooter situation. When the news of an active shooter in the area broke, one of my dearest friends, took command of our group and led us all to safety. We knew what to do because we’ve been trained since we were in kindergarten how to respond. I don’t want to live in a place who responds to gun violence by teaching its kindergarteners how to lock down or evacuate.”

Fear #2 – Becoming a police state

  • “Just let someone try to take my guns. Allowing law enforcement to remove guns from people who are at imminent risk of suicide or violence sounds like a police State to me…”
  • “While we want & need well-trained police, none of us wish to live in a tyrannical ‘police-state’ where an officer is placed on every corner of every isle of every store and home…therefore, let’s restore the American Founders’ idea of the citizen being trained well and armed well.”
  • “When gun control creates a police state, can I use my guns to overthrow it? That’s what the constitution says, right?”
  • “Politicians who are going to push for gun control are the biggest warmongers. Disarming the American people empowers the militarized. #policestate”

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It’s interesting to note that most of these fears express a kind of extreme, worst case scenario. Either gun laws will remain what they are, and I’ll be at constant risk for involvement in a mass shooting, OR gun laws will change, thus creating a police state. That’s not unexpected as many fears are the product of catastrophizing and anticipating the worst. However, if we’re ever going to make progress towards understanding each other and fixing a world, and more specifically country, so that these kinds of fears don’t seem so real, we’re going to need to move away from extreme positions and into a middle ground. True progress, and compromise for that matter, needs to exist between the extremes. It can’t really be inevitable that we either die in a mass shooting or surrender to a police state! There must be a middle ground in which the second amendment is protected AND people feel safe and protected in public places!

But the visceral reaction that often comes as a product of the type of events we saw in El Paso and Dayton is often to the extremes. And when we let an extreme fear on either side of the spectrum terrorize us so completely that we can’t be moved to any sort of action, then both sides of an argument continue to live in fear, and chaos wins. That chaos is currently playing itself out in the comments on social media and news stories and it’s getting us absolutely nowhere!

Cheers!

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Because this is an issue still getting a lot of talk time on the news and social media, and will be an issue that likely gets a lot of attention through the next election cycle, here is some general information about the issue of gun violence and gun control that might help move you from a place of fear into a place of understanding. Again, I’ve made every effort not to present this information in a way that favors a single side, argument, or fear. Citations are provided.

Some fast facts about guns in America

  • This is the Second Amendment: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
  • There were an estimated 12,830 homicide deaths in America last year. The population of the United States was 327,000,000 last year. The number of homicide victims represents 0.003921% of the population. The rate of homicides per 100,000 people is often the reported statistic comparing the US to the rest of the world. Using that measure, the US in 2x higher than the next reported country.*
  • There were 24 school shootings last year. The definition of school shooting in this study includes any instance in which a firearm was discharged on school property by someone other than law enforcement during the school day while students and staff were present. These school shootings accounted for 35 deaths, and 79 injuries. Of the 35 deaths, only 7 were not connected to the mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas or Santa Fe High School.***
  • Only 10 of the 24 schools involved in school shootings had a police liaison officer.***
  • In a recent survey, 75% of American adults responded that they wanted to keep the unobstructed right to own a handgun. In that same survey, only 30% of American adults responded that they personally kept or wanted to keep a handgun in their own home.**
  • 58% of American adults have been touched by gun violence either personally, or through someone they care about.*
  • Safehome.org, a home security company, has one of the best summaries of gun laws vs. gun violence I’ve seen, presented informatively and non-biasedly. I’d highly recommend if you’re interested in breaking through fear and rhetoric and getting a big picture on the gun debate in the US.

* “Gun Violence in America.” Everytown Research , 4 Apr. 2019, everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-america/.

**Frum, David. “Fear Drives Opposition to Gun Control.” CNN, Cable News Network, 30 July 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/23/opinion/frum-guns/index.html.

***“The School Shootings of 2018: What’s Behind the Numbers.” Education Week, 26 July 2019, http://www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/the-school-shootings-of-2018-whats-behind.html.

 

2 thoughts on “When we’re afraid of the extremes: A social media study

  1. Interesting opinion piece in the NY Post today by Miranda Devine exploring the relationship of marijuana use, mental health and possibly mass shootings. Marijuana use has shown to have a direct increase to the likelihood psychosis, depression and schizophrenia. So as government bodies legalize marijuana use in exchange for tax revenue, lets all wonder why other societal problems increase.

    Like

  2. Good Commentary…

    Like

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