In the aftermath of the tragedy in Tennessee, we continue to see the power of social media as platforms for speaking up against threats to democracy.
Just shy of a year ago we wrote about the tragic school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas and the need to continually fight to take action in support of gun control measures. It is a sad truth to acknowledge that looking back over the past year, mass shootings continue to plague our country at an alarming rate, with the most recent tragedy taking place at another elementary school: The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee.
As expected in the aftermath of the shooting, the initial conversation was focused on news sharing and outcries for #gunreformnow to #protectourkids. However, the discourse this time around took a notable shift following the protests and then highly irregular expulsion of two Tennessee State Representatives, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson.
The #TennesseeThree, along with Representative Gloria Johnson, organized with the community to demand action for gun control. Thanks to social media we were all able to witness the peaceful protests where community members, including teens, parents, and teachers used their voices to demand action from the legislature.
The unprecedented expulsion of the state legislators has garnered high volumes of online support for their courageous actions and refusal to back down on their demands for gun reform in Tennessee.
It is clear that the people of Nashville stand in support of the #TennesseeThree. The expulsion of Justin Jones and Justin Pearson has brought up conversations about racism within the Tennessee Legislature, opening up a broader discussion about the need to protect our democracy and our right to free speech.
This flood of support on social media has helped local organizers activate in Tennessee and also helped to garner the support of the nation. Children are in danger, and when the only actions taken are attempts to silence calls for gun control, people become angry.
“The right to free speech and peaceful protest is a cornerstone of democracy that protects everyone’s human rights. The expulsion of two members for exercising these rights, whether or not they violate rules of decorum, is an extreme overreach that constitutes a serious violation of fundamental rights.”
And the public seem to agree, and this time they are taking the conversation to TikTok. The ability to reach such a wide audience in a more personal video format is transforming the way people are working to spread the messages about these threats to democracy. In this case, the top 10 pieces of content reaching the most people and receiving the highest levels of engagement are on TikTok.
The ability for people to appeal to the public’s emotions using their own voice and while simultaneously sharing clips from what really happened in the Tennessee capitol building proves to be effective. These three videos alone have generated nearly 40,000 comments of support and appreciation for those standing up for gun control. While many posts themselves highlight the anger and frustrations of these circumstances, the discourse they are generating in the comments is one of love, support, and appreciation for speaking up.
In previous newsletters, we have often examined the use of TikTok by Gen-Z but they are no longer the only users. Recent data shows that the discourse around the #TennesseeThree contains 31% of TikTok users over the age of 35, highlighting the growing influence of TikTok in the social issues space.
Bottom line: More and more people are capitalizing on social media as a place to exercise our rights to free speech. Social media has proven its power to spread important messages, resist attacks on our democracy, and organize for change. The specific role that TikTok is playing in times of crisis is becoming more clear, and we will likely begin to see a continued growth in TikTok use for awareness and organizing purposes in the future – as long as we still have access.