Teen Parkland Survivors on Using Social Media to Change Society

Sarah Chadwick and Delaney Tarr survived their school's shooting. Now they're using Twitter to teach each other where adults have failed.

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Mar 9 2018, 9:37pm

Photo by Rhona Wise via Getty Images

In the wake of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, surviving students have risen from the tragedy as sobering voices calling for an end to gun violence. Students Sarah Chadwick and Delaney Tarr lived through the February 14 shooting at Parkland, and have quickly become vocal leaders in the fight for gun control. The survivors of the Parkland shooting have received widespread attention for their use of media and social media to drive attention to ending gun violence and calling for political action.

At a panel hosted by Diane Von Furstenberg on on March 9, in honor of International Women’s Day, Chadwick and Tarr addressed how they’re moving forward after Parkland as well as the advocacy issues most important to them. In an interview following the panel, the young women spoke about the inadequacies of the current administration, criticizing the failure to pass meaningful legislation to end gun violence, and how they've used social media to continue to focus the national spotlight on gun control and put pressure on lawmakers. Both Chadwick and Tarr describe social media as “one of the safest ways to find community,” around the national debate around gun control.

Tarr explains how her use of social media changed dramatically after the shooting. "Twitter was actually my favorite app at the time and I had what, like 500 followers?” said Tarr. “I could talk to them about things that I couldn’t talk about with my school friends. And then, all of this happened.”

After the shooting, Twitter became even more powerful and meaningful in Chadwick’s life. She explained that other teenagers from around the country started contacted her seeking community when they feel isolated from their friends or family by their beliefs. “It’s really heartwarming that I could be a safe space now," she said.

For Chadwick, the comfort in knowing that she is able to help her broader community is balanced by the burden of that responsibility. “There’s kids in their home who aren’t comfortable, because they might be LGBT and their parents are homophobic, and if I can help them with that, then it makes me feel a lot better. I’m helping kids like me, kids who haven’t found their voice yet," she said.

“It sometimes is scary though,” Chadwick added. “There’s a fine line, where there’s this understanding that we’re teenagers, and knowing that we are like them—and them kind of expecting us to be these things that we’re not.”

For example, someone asked Tarr for information about co-payments for mental health medication. “I don’t necessarily know about that yet, because I’m still learning about gun control and gun reform," said Tarr.

Both Chadwick and Tarr see it as their responsibility to become educated on advocacy issues beyond gun control, as they are now in the national spotlight. “I know that I’m going to have to know all these things,” Tarr said. “If I want to take on a leadership position in this country that’s what I have to do.”

As they've quickly learned to use social media to educate others, Tarr and Chadwick also lean heavily on Twitter and online sources for their own education. “Social media is educating us,” Tarr said. “It’s always educated us. I learned so much of my politics from seeing these news outlets post on Twitter. We’re teenagers. We don’t watch the news, we don’t read newspapers. I get most of my news from going on these websites and reading articles online.”

“The thing is, we’re teenagers,” Chadwick added. “And as much as people like to say that we learn from our elders, we don’t. We learn from other teenagers, and that’s how our generation has become so politically active, inspiring, and educated. We’re learning from each other.”