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Newtown shooting draws new voices to social media

By Mariano Castillo, CNN
December 17, 2012 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
  • Many who don't usually post political statements are talkative on social media
  • The tragedy is drawing many new voices to social media debates
  • Common themes are gun control, school security

(CNN) -- Social media is boiling with talk about Friday's massacre at a school in Newtown, Connecticut. That's no surprise.

But there is something remarkable about a number of conversations, many of which begin with a phrase like: "I don't normally post about politics, but..."

Because of the unbelievable toll of the shooting, or the innocence snatched from the children or many other reasons, even those who usually keep their political views to themselves had something powerful to say.

Something about the tragedy turned many people from observers to advocates.

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"I normally don't post anything related to gun control or politics, but this has to stop. We need to wake up and change," Los Angeles social media consultant Dan Levey tweeted.

His tweets are eclectic but rarely controversial. But after the news that a gunman killed 20 children and seven adults before ending his own life, he felt compelled to be forceful with his views.

Levey was a freshman at a school in Aurora, Colorado, when the Columbine shooting happened nearby. He had watched movies at the theater in Aurora that was the site of another mass shooting this summer.

"It just all kind of added up and I was upset over (Friday's mass shooting)," he said. "I still am. I just had to say something about it."

Usually, he steers away from politics on social media, leaving others, as he put it, to argue about it.

But in the 24 hours after the shooting, he has become an unofficial lobbyist for gun control.

The fact that most of Friday's victims were children sharpened a political view that he had slowly arrived over the years.

"For the longest time, I didn't have a problem with people owning guns, but after yesterday, I definitely changed my views a little bit," he said. "If this isn't a wake up call, I don't know what is."

How to help

The gun-control debates that raged on Facebook and Twitter immediately after the shooting turned others off, and led them to make uncharacteristic posts advocating strong opinions.

Gina Griffin, a client relationship manager in Buford, Georgia, said she makes it a point not to be overly opinionated on her Facebook wall because such posts invite negative responses.

But she could not rationalize the events in Newtown and began, "I try to stay out of the politics because of all the anger it brings. BUT..."

What followed was a lengthy screed against those engaging in debates over gun control. The real problem, she wrote, is Americans' attitudes toward mental health issues. She made her position clear: "It's not guns that (are) the issue, it's people not recognizing the warning signs and getting involved to prevent a tragedy."

By her own description, Griffin tries to spread positive thoughts on Facebook, mostly through photos she shares.

On Saturday, however, she wanted to be heard above the crowd.

"Everyone went to the gun issue, that's all everyone is talking about, but it is not about that," she said.

Those normally family-photos-only types used words like "unspeakable" and "irreconcilable" to explain what compelled them to use their cyber-pulpit.

"While I know after today some of us will cry for more gun control, some of us will cry for more need to defend ourselves, my prayer is that we all could unify and agree to cry out for more God in our schools, our homes and our nation," Midlothian, Texas, resident Casey Ballard posted on Facebook.

Her sentiment gathered 96 "likes."

"My point was not to be political," Ballard said."We can hope for some policy change, but we should all want and need some God."

Another Texas resident, former high school teacher Marianne Horton, admits that she mostly shares photos of her kids on social media and is sensitive about posting controversial views that some may not like.

"Any time it has to do with kids, as a parent, it outrages me," she said of the shooting.

So she broke from her normal habits and shared a strong message calling for more security at schools.

Horton advocated for schools to be on permanent lockdown and having outsiders not be able to even make it past the front door. Metal detectors, school uniforms, clear backpacks (or no backpacks) are worthwhile ideas, she wrote.

The Newtown shooting "was the most disgusting thing I have seen in my life. I couldn't help but post something about it," she said.

Like many others who jumped into the conversation, Horton was surprised by the large response she received.

"I feel that as a parent and teacher, it was something that needed to be said," she said.

People are sharing their concern and sadness over the Newtown school shooting. What are your thoughts? Share then with CNN iReport.

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