Newtown and Social Media

We all feel helpless. And we certainly remember feeling the same way during Columbine, 9/11, Aurora and countless other events in recent memory that took far too many lives in an instant. Today, when people feel helpless, many of us turn to social media. Some to argue and provoke. Others simply to vent and be heard.

Laurie Ruettimann, who writes a blog called The Cynical Girl, posted an item the other day noting that even with its many drawbacks, social media “knits the world together” during a crisis. At the same time, many have noted that social media is little more than a community bulletin board. We post, but we do little.

So I want to take this opportunity to focus on how a number of people have turned to social media after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, to do one thing: make a difference.

  • Brian Mauriello, a near-lifetime resident of Newtown, established the Newtown Memorial Fund within hours of the tragedy, creating a website, Facebook page and Twitter feed to accept donations for the purpose of building a memorial playground in honor of the Sandy Hook victims. He has already applied for 501c3 status and has named a board of directors that includes an accountant, an attorney, a member of the police force, a public school teacher and others. Mauriello’s six-year-old son attends a different elementary school in Newtown.
  • On Twitter, NBC News correspondent Ann Curry launched #26ActsofKindness, encouraging people to perform acts of kindness in memory of Newtown’s 26 victims, and share what they accomplished on Twitter. The movement has spread, with thousands of people tweeting their acts of kindness. Beth Steinberg, for example, tweeted this: “Just paid the school fees for 26 children with AIDS in Mombasa, Kenya.” And Heather Fournie sent this tweet out: “Just left dinner for two at Applebee’s for a town police officer on his car.”
  • The Emilie Parker Fund Facebook page was created by friends of the six-year-old victim’s family to raise money for their expenses through a fund set up with a credit union in Utah, where Emilie was born. Since the page was created on Dec. 14, more than 322,000 fans have joined.
  • Ryan Kraft, a former Sandy Hook Elementary School student, turned to crowdrise.com, a popular crowdfunding site, to create a Sandy Hook Elementary School Victims Relief Fund page. Kraft hopes the fund will support the victims, families and all others affected locally by the shooting, and the funds will be donated directly to the school’s PTSA. So far, Ryan has raised $103,170.
  • Earlier this week, Colette Connolly of my staff posted a message on my Facebook page about how the Connecticut PTSA is asking people to make paper snowflakes and send them to Newtown. The snowflakes will be used to decorate every corner of Chalk Hill Elementary School, when Sandy Hook students move in there in late January. I posted the information on my page and suggested that our district hold a snowflake-making day. On Monday, Jan. 7, our employees will be dropping in at our Snowflake Central to try their hand at making hundreds of paper snowflakes that will be boxed up and sent to Newtown. And NSPRA colleague Jim Cummings, a Facebook friend, posted that same idea on the Glendale (AZ) Elementary School District Facebook page, where he works. The snowflakes have gone viral.

No doubt, we have all read posts about gun control and revamping the way we treat mental illness in this country. But instead of using social media to simply yell from the rooftops, some people are using it to take concrete, lasting action.

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