My new column is live at The Drum:
If your public relations campaign involves going after children who have survived a mass shooting at their school that killed 17 of their classmates and teachers and injured many more, then you have already sold your soul for political gain. Go home.
Two weeks ago, I wrote that the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election through social media would be taught in the future as the biggest PR debacle in history. But then the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the US replied, “Hold my beer.”
On 14 February, Nikolas Cruz, 19, entered a high school in Parkland, Florida, with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and shot students and teachers. Cruz was later arrested and then confessed to the crime. It was the latest occurrence of the epidemic of mass shootings in a country that has far more guns than anyone else and an unhealthy obsession with them.
The surviving students are young enough to have known and used social media for their entire conscious lives. Within days – and likely while still dealing with the unresolved trauma – they became activists who, among doing other activities, are now using social media in a massive, nationwide PR campaign.
The teenagers created organizational accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, will hold a March for Our Lives protest in Washington, D.C., this month, and have been meeting with local government officials to advocate for more gun control.
They are not messing around
The boldest statements have come from individual students talking directly to government officials, the news media, and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch:
– An anonymous student retweeted a statement by US president Donald Trump with this comment (that has since been deleted): “I don’t want your condolences you fucking piece of shit, my friends and teachers were shot. Multiple of my fellow classmates are dead. Do something instead of sending prayers. Prayers won’t fix this. But gun control will prevent it from happening again.” The tweet had received almost 78,000 retweets.
– Emma Gonzalez gave this speech at a rally in Florida, vowing that her school would be the last mass shooting in the US. “This was not a mental health issue!” she shouted. “He would not have harmed that many students with a knife… The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us, and us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and are prepared to call BS!” That single linked share of her speech linked above got 60,000 retweets.
– At a town hall event that was broadcast nationwide on CNN, a student asked Florida senator Marco Rubio if he would refuse future NRA campaign donations. Gonzalez asked Loesch if the organization supports making it more difficult to obtain semi-automatic weapons. The crowd was openly hostile and jeered at Rubio and Loesch for their vague non-answers to the straightforward yes-or-no questions.
– Sarah Chadwick tweeted: “We should change the names of AR-15s to ‘Marco Rubio’ because they are so easy to buy.”
– “We’ve had enough of thoughts and prayers,” another student said in a speech. “This is to every lawmaker out there: no longer can you take money from the NRA, no longer can you fly under the radar doing whatever it is that you want to do – because we are coming after you. We are coming after each and every single one of you.”
(American universities: please give these kids full scholarships for political science, journalism, or marketing degrees.)
When it comes to my marketing columns, I am politically neutral. In my prior journalism career, I saw bullshit from liberals and conservatives. But in politics in the US, UK, and elsewhere today, the vast majority of the propaganda and bot-promoted fake news has been on the right. And I go wherever the bullshit is.
The unprecedented fierceness of the students’ activism likely caught the NRA off-guard. The organization did not see this coming and has been overreacting in response. In increasing order of despicableness, here is what the far-right PR machine in general and the NRA specifically has been saying.