One of the greatest Onion articles ever written is headlined, “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” In one sentence it nails the “our hands are tied” helplessness of a country where politicians scramble to appease overreaching lobbyists, religious groups, and the mega-rich at the expense of the general population. This is easily evidenced by the fact that the people of the United States want stricter gun laws (and to see current laws enforced), and yet we remain gridlocked on the federal level, at the absolute mercy of the NRA.
In this wealthy, industrialized nation, the epicenter of global technological advancement, the first nation to put a man on the moon, we routinely deal with large-scale cataclysm (often issued forth from the white-hot barrel of a semi-automatic rifle). Other times, less regularly, the tragedies befall our similarly developed allies. Nations in which we see something of ourselves. And when tragedy hit New Zealand last Sunday — in the form of a white supremacist attack on two mosques, killing 50 — the United States was in the position of watching another nation respond to the sort of catastrophe that we are so thoroughly versed in.
What would those ever-polite Kiwis do? Surely, while grieving and reeling at the same time, their quiet, reticent natures would beget pragmatism. They would realize it’s still “too soon” after the tragedy to try to fix the problem that caused it. Naturally, they would go meek and wait months to draw conclusions.
Nope. They flew into action. They were decisive. They were clear-eyed and fearless. They were, in short, everything that Americans like to tell ourselves we are (though we have fewer and fewer metrics by which to back up this claim). Since the attack, New Zealand and its leaders have put on a masterclass in how to take a strong stand in the face of tragedy and respond in a way that spurs on societal progress and an increased sense of national connectedness. It’s high time we pay attention to them.
We cannot, for instance, just simply allow some of the challenges that we face with social media to be dealt with on a case by case basis. There is an argument here to be made for us to take a united front on what is a global issue.
That quote comes from Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand and the youngest head of state in the world, in an interview with Time Magazine. After a video of the murders was circulated via social media and streamed on Facebook, she was quick to condemn the killer’s quest for notoriety, promising to never speak his name.
She also said of sites like Facebook and Twitter, “They are the publisher, not just the postman. It cannot be a case of all profit, no responsibility.” Her stance has been clear since day one — we must rein in the power of social media to spread hate, give refuge to extremists, and instigate violence. Already, the country has begun blocking sites that hosted the viral video of the attack like 4Chan, 8Chan, and LiveLeak. This stands in sharp contrast to the United States, where Russian meddling in our election via social media — completely proven by various independent groups, published in a report by Congress, and clearly meant to embolden bigots — is generally ignored, and tech CEOs try to back out of accountability conversations (presumably) over fears that doing so will hurt the value of their stock.
In her initial response to the tragedy, Ardern also went right for guns.
“While work is being done as to the chain of events that lead to both the holding of this gun license and the possession of these weapons, I can tell you one thing right now,” she said, “Our gun laws will change.”