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Small Town Consistently Producing Big Social Media

A tiny Texas town with a population of just under seven thousand residents curiously serves as the source of origin for several mostly-divisive social media stories that went viral and grabbed national attention again as recently as February, 2018. The latest story had come just in time to try to dissuade the American school child from "marching for their lives" in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida that claimed seventeen lives.


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Water Tower Looks Out Over the Small Town of Joshua, Texas

9/8/18 J.D. Lakota (Boston, MA)

You may remember the 2013 story of high school student Remington Reimer, a valedictorian whose microphone was shut off at graduation ceremonies while he gave his speech. This happened because Reimer deviated from his approved content to speak about religion and freedom of speech. The story became one of the most viral of that year.

For many, it gained fame as an example of religious persecution against Christian beliefs. Many more viewed this designation as dubious at best, opportunism that created controversy.
Before the event, each of three speakers were informed this action would result had they done this. Go "off script" and your microphone would be shut off. Reimer did it anyway.

Next, in 2014, the single non-political story of those recalled here became known. It was the tale of Makenzie Washington, whom while skydiving for the first time fell 3500 feet to the ground after her parachute only partially opened. Miraculously, Makenzie did not die, but understandably faced a long road of recovery having had broken her back and pelvis. Occasional stories about Makenzie’s recovery became a regular part of "general-interest" news through spring of 2017.

It took a bit more than the year between the last two stories, but the next viral narrative out of Joshua, Texas came a few years later in the beginning of 2017. Like the Reimer controversy, this story would also be rooted in political ideology.

You might recall the story of a high school English teacher, who as part of lesson material, showed a picture of Hillary Clinton
depicted to look like Hitler, swastika arm band included. The “lesson” was essentially 50 minutes of attempted alt-right indoctrination for the entire class. It would soon come to light that the unnamed teacher had a political blog, and that the handouts he gave students during that day's teaching mirrored the content of his blog.

"An Open Letter From a Teacher To Students 'Walking Out'"

Just one year later, the latest viral social media to come out of the small Texas town would be in the form of “An Open Letter From A Teacher To Students ‘Walking Out’.” The letter framed the idea of walking out to support the national student protest of loose gun laws in March 2018 as a useless act. It claimed the answer was instead the responsibility of the American school child. The letter was shared through social media hundreds of thousands of times.

The letter was written by retired physical education teacher and ex-basketball coach David Blair of Joshua High School. With a bit of effort, you can trace the letter back to his Facebook page. It included the following types of statements:
  • “Don’t walk out, read this instead.”
  • “... put down your stupid phone. Look around you at your classmates. Do you see the kid over in the corner, alone? He could likely be our next shooter.”
  • “... see that kid eating lunch all alone? He could likely be our next shooter. Invite him to eat lunch with you.”
The letter continued to cast certain students as ticking time bombs, that if left alone, could become the next school shooter. By the second page, it started to show an anti-gun legislation narrative with statements like:
  • “Gun control or more laws is not, and will not, be the answer. You are the answer.”
  • “If you’ve read this far, you probably really do care about the safety of your school.”
  • “Your greeting, your smile, your gentle human touch is the only thing that can change the world of a desperate classmate who may be contemplating something as horrendous as a school shooting.”
Sadly, this piece of eventually viral, divisive social media contended that attending the March for Our Lives and being kinder to your classmates were mutually exclusive. Even worse, it put the blame for these awful events on students. The intended take-away from the letter was that if students didn't want to be a victim of a mass shooting in an academic environment, they simply had to be nicer to their classmates.

So for now, the small town of Joshua, Texas leaves us with this letter, which appeared to have spawned similar social media campaigns like #walkupnotout, and gained even more notoriety--so much that Isabelle Robinson, a survivor of the Parkland tragedy, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about how she had tried to befriend the shooter several times in the years before the tragedy, but "he still killed my friends."

School is back in session across the country, and with that, students and parents are once again fearful. They are no longer buffered by the reprieve of summer vacation. Their thoughts return to the possibility of another Parkland tragedy, but next in their own city or town.

Perhaps no one knows when or if we are next going to hear from this curious curator of mostly-divisive viral social media, but chances are it may not be too long before the statistically improbably happens again, and we learn of another widely shared narrative from this tiny Texas town.


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