After enduring days of online vilification, Florida school shooting survivor David Hogg said he bears no grudge against the social media companies whose platforms surfaced and circulated false allegations that he was a “crisis actor” merely playing the part of a grieving student.
“It’s abuse, and it’s bad press for me,” said Hogg, 17, in a phone interview Thursday morning. But, he added, “it gets our names out there.”
And that, Hogg said, aids in the coordinated push by survivors of last week’s shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school to demand action on a range of government changes that, they insist, are necessary to prevent the next mass shooting.
Hogg has been the most visible victim of a virulent online campaign to portray Florida students speaking out on gun control measures as fakes getting paid by shadowy political forces intent on restricting gun ownership.
A video making such allegations reached the top of YouTube’s list of “Trending” clips before the company blocked access to it Wednesday, saying it violated policies against harassment. Similar content spread widely on Facebook, which also took down a page on the subject, as well as Twitter, 4 Chan, Reddit and several conservative websites.
As the backlash grew, so did Hogg’s profile — and his list of followers on Twitter, which tripled, he said — as he emerged as the unlikely target of a sustained online attack from largely anonymous posters.
“I’m not trying to censor these people,” Hogg said. “People are always going to talk. … They only way that we are going to prove that we’re not actors is to let them say what they want.”
Hogg’s life changed abruptly Feb. 14, when a former student rampaged through Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with a semiautomatic rifle, killing 17 people, mostly students.
Hogg and other survivors almost immediately became the telegenic news faces of urgent calls for gun control changes, including universal background checks, a higher minimum age for gun purchases of 21 and expanded government mental health systems.
Several Parkland students met with President Trump on Wednesday while others lobbied lawmakers in Tallahassee, the capital of Florida. Some also appeared on a live CNN event Wednesday night to challenge lawmakers, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), to distance themselves from the National Rifle Association and its powerful political fundraising machinery.
By Thursday morning, Hogg had just slept through an alarm and frantic calls from his mother, missing the latest scheduled television interview. He praised Rubio for appearing at the CNN event but criticized him for “sidestepping” questions about taking donations from the NRA.
Hogg praised Trump for backing some of the changes favored by students, including expanding background checks for gun purchases, raising the minimum age for buying guns and restricting access to “bump stocks,” devices that allow semiautomatic rifles to fire more rapidly.
But Hogg was not as impressed by Trump’s call for arming teachers as a way to thwart school shootings.
“I don’t think we’re going to solve this with new violence,” Hogg said.
As the pace of political events and news interviews gradually slows down, Hogg will have something else to think about: what to do next year.
Hogg is a senior who awoke last Thursday — the morning after the shooting — to an email from his “safety school” denying his application for college admission. He also is struggling to imagine returning to high school to finish his last few months of classes. Among his top concerns are the death threats that he has heard are targeting him.
“I’m not afraid,” Hogg said, “but I don’t want to bring a major security threat to anybody else.”