In 2018, seventeen students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) were killed by a former student armed with an AR-15 rifle. Four days later, students of MSD began an activist movement known as Never Again with the goal for stricter background checks for gun buyers (Witt). Since then, #NeverAgain has emerged as a broader movement on social media for “genocidal remembrance and awareness” and “human and civil rights” (NeverAgain). A current overview of Twitter reveals that the #NeverAgain movement is now most concerned with various human rights issues such as the immigrant detention centers near the border of Mexico, as well as other general resistance to right-wing agendas that are sometimes labeled as fascist.
However, while the #NeverAgain movement has shifted into a multiplicity of meanings online, and has also lost a lot of the popularity that it gained during its initial period, the presence and persistence of this movement’s original focus on gun control laws have resulted in remarkable political outcomes.
For instance, the activists of #NeverAgain, who are primarily young people, have used their saavy internet and media skills to be very interactively influential online and also to bring their cause out into the real world. While some may argue that Twitter-based movements are merely echo-chambers for people isolated from meaningful action, this view is contradicted by the #NeverAgain movement’s success in rallying meaningful protests and campaigns, which are still relevant today despite less of a Twitter presence.
In the earliest days and weeks of the #NeverAgain movement, the central and only issue represented on Twitter was based on efforts to pass laws for stricter gun control policies.
There appears to be an immediate split between left groups such as the @TheDemCoalition as well as various politicians such as Senator Bob Menendez (#SenatorMenendez) on one side, and groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and conservative politicians such as Marco Rubio on the other side. In the first weeks of #NeverAgain, the posts are overwhelmingly reflective of the agenda to enforce gun control, most from Illinois and Florida based Democratic groups. On March 1st, the #NeverAgain movement apparently won a decisive victory in that a number of legislations were passed limiting access to highly dangerous assault weapons, such as the HB1465 to ban bump stocks and HB 1467 which enforced a policy for a minimum age of 21 years for one to own an assault weapon. The most popular posts appearing for #NeverAgain gained wide popularity, with the political activist group @Quandrants4Chang receiving 4,800+ likes, 1,700 shares, and 136 comments on the post detailing the political victories mentioned above (Twitter).
By the end of 2018, #NeverAgain had dramatically expanded from its specialized focus on school shootings to encompass the wider frame on genocidal themes. On November 30th, 2018, Guy Verhofstradt, a Belgian politician and member of the European Parliament, posted a link on Twitter about how a full one-third of Europeans know very little or nothing about the Holocaust, and more than a quarter surveyed said Jews have too much influence in business and finance. Verhofstradt’s point is that modern Europeans and others should be well aware of the 20th century’s sad legacy of genocide so that we may “never again” repeat such appalling catastrophes. This post achieved similar levels of popularity as the most popular #NeverAgain from earlier in 2018 which were focused on the MSD school shootings and stricter gun control laws. In November 2018 there were some posts on Twitter related to gun control and school shootings, but the popularity of the wider genocide focus had greatly taken over #NeverAgain, likely due to the remembrance of Nazi actions taken in late November of 1941 (Twitter). However, on November 28th a woman, reportedly a mother of a five-year-old children, gained a lot of attention from her post about her son’s “code red” drill in school (Twitter). Interestingly, aside from these two posts, the #NeverAgain movement had lost its traction on Twitter during this time.
Jumping forward to May of 2019, #NeverAgain once more positions itself with the cause of gun control due to a Virginia Beach shooting, as seen by Representative Elijah E. Cummings’ post which gained 8,700 likes, about 2,000 shares, and over 400 comments. Another issue of relevance in late May was brought to light by Kingsley Moghalu, who posted a popular message about his memories of suffering in Biafra as a child during the war in the 1960s and 70s (Twitter). This post was issue was brought to the fore by Moghalu because of the memorial date of May 30th to remember the Biafra War. In the present time range, from June 2019 through to the end of July 2019, a look through Twitter’s #NeverAgain shows that the movement has morphed into a general trend resisting various forms of repression such as antisemitism and human rights violation such as the brutal conditions faced by undocumented migrants being held in detainment camps. Democratic Representative Steve Cohen has the most popular #NeverAgain post on Twitter for the month of July with a focus on comparing Trump’s administration to Hitler based on racism and xenophobia.
The analysis of the progression of #NeverAgain from 2018 to the present shows how an idea as the foundation of a movement can morph based on the context. The popularity of #NeverAgain posts change based on the present current events. When there has been a shooting, #NeverAgain reflects a widespread spirit for gun policies; when there is a memorialization date for a genocide or war, the #NeverAgain posts reflect remembering and supporting human rights initiatives. We can also note that the most popular posts are frequently made by politicians who are pushing certain agendas which are most often from the left of the political spectrum. In the U.S., this usually means a resistance against the Trump administration or conservative groups such as the NRA. Last, we can observe that #NeverAgain achieved a global popularity, with various European politicians using this hashtag to spread awareness of their causes.
The #NeverAgain movement on Twitter has received a lot of attention from popular web publications and political and media theorists. For instance, Nick Bilton writes for Vanity Fair that this movement has proven that the youth, primarily those in “generation Z,” have proven there is great promise in internet-based political work during the present and future to come. Bilton points out some of the most popular tweets of the online movement, such as Carly Novell, a 17-year-old student at M.S.D. who wrote a critical tweet of a Fox News host’s anti-gun limitation tweet and received almost 900,000 likes on Twitter. #NeverAgain has demonstrated the very responsive and influential power of social media as a means of rallying support and raising awareness. When we recognize that certain opinions and viewpoints are being seen and engaged with in the range of hundreds of thousands of times, then there is no doubt that political positions are being strengthened. As Bilton says, “the Parkland students have done an astounding job preventing the news cycle from forgetting about their tragedy.” Without a constant dialogue about a political issue, it tends to fall by the wayside, which prevents any movement to make meaningful changes. Through Twitter, the #NeverAgain activists have ensured that the world doesn’t forget about what happened, and also of the necessity for political change.
#NeverAgain has also been recognized as a victory for online mobilization of political action, which is important considering the possibility for internet activism to remain only on the screen rather than out in the real world. Critics of online activism call it “clicktivism” and insist that it is defined by “weak ties” rather than “strong ties,” which means that the connections and communications online are more superficial and hold less reliability than face-to-face relationships in the world. For instance, on Facebook, many people may say they will go to an event, but the commitment is based on weak ties. The #NeverAgain movement however immediately brought their protest into the world, as seen in “social-media campaigns urging people not to vote for politicians who take millions of dollars from the N.R.A.,” as well as in marches, protests, rallies and a presence on radio and news broadcasts (Bilton). One journalist says reading these activists’ on Twitter “has so far been a sheer masterclass in how to make change happen” (Tang). Indeed, there can be no doubt that the #NeverAgain activists have made a difference, as seen by how numerous major companies, under the pressure of the movement, severed their ties with the NRA (Tang). This list includes Delta, United, Hertz, Avis, Budget, and Met Life among several others (Tang). Further, the fact that so many politicians became involved directly in the Twitter conversation is also proof about the mainstream relevance of this movement.
From a more critical perspective, much of the above positive aspects of the #NeverAgain movement were strongest in the immediacy of the Parkland shooting event. As observed above regarding the shifting meanings of popular #NeverAgain posts, it appears that the movement has run out of steam, at least compared to its early days. However, even though this is true, that the movement receives far less attention today than it did in the weeks and first months of its founding, the movement has made substantial foundational work needed to maintain its effectiveness into the future. For instance, the protests have been seen as influential in helping Democrat Lucy McBath win a congressional victory in a Georgia district that had been Republican for decades (Meyer). David S. Meyer, author of The Politics of Protest: Social Movements in America, looks positively at the #NeverAgain movement, insisting that it reflects in some ways the Civil Right Movement longer preparatory work that was essential for the movement to be effective. Though Twitter has been the central hub of communication for this movement, there have also been great steps taken by #NeverAgain such as coalition building and showing up in the physical world (Meyer). The movement away from Twitter as the primary location of the movement to the real world can be seen as a sign of the movement’s success.
#NeverAgain demonstrates how a movement that is sourced online can be more than an isolated echo chamber for people who are stuck behind their screens. Indeed, the movement has, by its very nature, been very engaged from its beginning. For instance, the conversation has often included a dialogue between the #NeverAgain activists and opponents from conservative news sites or organizations like NRA. As discussed above, some of the most popular tweets came from direct responses to opponents. Therefore, the movement online has been more interactive rather than simply an echo chamber. Second, the presence of the movement in the world through protests, rallies, and campaigns to elect politicians or disempower groups like the NRA show that it is certainly not simply an isolated online arena where people are agreeing with each other. Rather, the #NeverAgain movement has raised millions of dollars, deeply affected the consciousness of the public, influenced certain elections, and have discredited the NRA and conservative positions that are aligned with harmful gun freedoms. The fact that the movement directly concerned young people by virtue of the crisis of school shootings has allowed a young generation of very media literate people to show the power that political engagement can have online. In the future it will be interesting to see how #NeverAgain evolves, and if it can maintain its presence and focus on gun issues while the movement’s label continues to be co-opted for other causes.
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