At a town hall on Wednesday night, the survivors of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, made Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) squirm with a series of pointed questions about his support for the Second Amendment. One question that drew particularly loud cheers came from Cameron Kasky, when he asked Rubio, “Can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?”
But while the crowd at the town hall may have forcefully backed Kasky, the 17-year-old has been subject to a different reception online, where he says he’s encountered vicious smears and death threats.
The trolling has gotten so bad that, earlier in the day, Kasky said he was taking some time off Facebook because “the death threats from the NRA cultists are a bit more graphic than those on Twitter.”
Temporarily got off Facebook because there’s no character count so the death threats from the @NRA cultists are a bit more graphic than those on twitter. Will be back when I have the time for it. Busy getting my feelings hurt by fellow teenagers at Br**tb*rt
— Cameron Kasky (@cameron_kasky) February 21, 2018
Kasky isn’t the only teenager getting death threats for their activism against the NRA. David Hogg, also 17, has fiercely advocated on television for improved gun control laws in the wake of the mass shooting which left seventeen of his classmates and teachers dead. Over the last week, he has been a central target for conspiracy theorists believing that he is in fact not a student but a “crisis actor”. One video claiming Hogg was an actor got more than 200,000 views and was the top trending video on YouTube before it was taken down.
Now Hogg’s family members are receiving death threats as well. “I’m under so much stress,” David’s mother, Rebecca Boldrick, told the Washington Post. “I’m angry and exhausted. Angry, exhausted and proud.”
Hey @FLOTUS you say that your mission as First Lady is to stop cyber bullying, well then, don’t you think it would have been smart to have a convo with your step-son @DonaldJTrumpJr before he liked a post about a false conspiracy theory which in turn put a target on my back
— Lauren Hogg (@lauren_hoggs) February 23, 2018
Harassment of the survivors of mass shootings has become a horrifyingly familiar part of the post-tragedy routine.
After surviving a bullet to the head during the Las Vegas massacre, for example, 30-year-old Braden Matejka was inundated with death threats. “You are a lying piece of shit and I hope someone truly shoots you in the head,” one wrote. “It’s madness. I can’t imagine the thought process of these people,” Matejka told the Guardian at the time. “Do they know that we are actual people?”
And last June, a Florida woman was given prison time after pleading guilty to making a series of death threats against a parent whose child was killed in the Sandy Hook mass shooting.
Part of the reason these conspiracy theories, and the death threats against survivors that accompany them, become so popular is because they manage to exploit the algorithms of major social media platforms that dictate what content is “trending.” YouTube, for instance, removed the video claiming that David Hogg was a crisis actor — but only after media backlash. Because its trending column is dictated by algorithms, no one was able to spot the problem early. Facebook has a similar problem, with content claiming that the Parkland students were lying being shared hundreds of thousands of times on its platform in wake of the shooting.