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Large number of sarcastic and mocking tweet replies after horrific mass shooting

05/03/2024
The study concluded the ‘ease with which X (formerly Twitter) users deployed sarcasm demonstrates just how normalized mass gun violence has become in the United States’

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A large number of X (formerly Twitter) users posted sarcastic and mocking tweets in response to a US mass shooting, a Middlesex University study found.

Nearly one fifth of more than 2,000 tweets analysed contain sarcasm or mockery in relation to the horrific murders at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in which 21 people were killed. Salvador Ramos, 18, murdered 19 students aged between nine and 11-years-old and two teachers before being shot dead by police on the campus.

Academics looked at a pool of 2,182 replies to tweets by the American news channels CNN and Fox News network which are traditionally associated on social media with Democratic and Republican political views and found 383 used sarcasm and mockery representing 17.6%.

"The entrenched scripts even in these mass incidents of violence is the most shocking thing, which speaks to the despondence and lack of control people feel currently about such mass shootings and how often they occur." Professor Daniel Sailofsky.

The replies also featured the following themes: blaming police (1448); blaming guns (929); Democratic party-political points (897); blaming politics and politicians (713); other blame (474); critical of media (223); Republican party-political points (144); sadness (79), and; pro-police points (55).

In total, there were 5.9 Democratic themed tweets for every one Republican themed tweet.

The shooting at Robb Elementary School in May 2022 was the third deadliest school shooting in American history behind Virginia Tech in 2007 and Sandy Hook in 2012, It was one of 51 school shootings in the country that resulted in injury and/or death in 2022 alone.

In a paper, the study concluded the ‘ease with which Twitter users deployed sarcasm demonstrates just how normalized mass gun violence has become in the United States’.

Co-author Paul Bleakley, an Associate Researcher for Middlesex University’s Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies (CATS) and an Assistant Professor in Criminal Justice at the University of New Haven, said: “Naturally we would think why are so many people responding in this way to something which is objectively such a tragic incident? The use of humour wasn’t necessarily a lack of empathy and in some ways was the opposite as people were saying this horrific event is so wrong and nothing ever changes.

"When these terrible mass shootings keep happening, some people resort to sarcasm and political humour because they feel so hopeless but it can have a very negative impact if it goes unrestrained because they are making a mockery of really horrendous incidents which need to be addressed."

Many of the Twitter users deployed a ‘disaster script’ which was a pre-prepared response to mock users with different political views.

Daniel Sailofsky, an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto who co-authored the paper, said: “Scripts have already been created and maintained by people on either side of the equation, so people know what, quote, the other side will say about this politically and so they won’t even wait for the other person to make their point and skip ahead and mock their prospective argument.

"The entrenched scripts even in these mass incidents of violence is the most shocking thing, which speaks to the despondence and lack of control people feel currently about such mass shootings and how often they occur. Even something so awful such as what happened at Uvalde which should transcend politics is seen through this political prism.”

Prof Sailofsky carried out the research while a professor at Middlesex University, while Prof Bleakley previously had a teaching role at MDX.

The paper – ‘Politics, Jokes, and Banter Amid Tragedy: The Use of Sarcasm and Mocking on Social Media in Response to the Uvalde School Shooting’ – has been peer reviewed and published in the Journal of Social Media in Society.

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