The student survivors of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, have been teaching the rest of the country how to react to tragedy ever since a gunman claimed 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine's Day. Now, they're showing how best to respond to online trolls, too. Parkland survivor David Hogg thanked his online critics because all those conspiracy theory-spreading haters actually helped him spread his message.
Speaking with CNN on Sunday, Hogg talked about the attacks directed at him and other student organizers who've been accused of being "crisis actors," or people who've been coached by progressive groups to speak about gun control. Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter brought up the topic, describing those attacks as "terrible YouTube, Twitter theories." "If you search your name on Twitter, these lies about you being an actor are still at the top," Stelter noted. He then asked Hogg how he felt about it.
"It's great," Hogg told the CNN host. "It's great advertising honestly ... These people that have been attacking me on social media, they've been great advertisers. Ever since they started attacking me, my Twitter followers are now a quarter of a million people. People have continued to cover us in the media. They've done a great job of that, and for that, I honestly thank them."
Many mainstream media outlets debunked the crisis-actor conspiracy theories about the student organizers this past week. Other articles have compared the accusations to those aimed student activists during the Civil Rights Movement. Wherever you fall on it, the controversy has brought a whole lot of attention to the teenagers involved in the movement for gun reform after the Parkland shooting.
Hogg, together with as many as 20 of his classmates, has been organizing as a part of a new group, Never Again MSD, that is working to advance a gun control bill. They've organized the March for Our Lives on March 24, which will take place in Washington, D.C., and in cities across the nation to further the debate on gun reform.
Many of Hogg's fellow student organizers have taken a similar route in pushing back at the conspiracy theorists. They've pushed back at the accusations while sometimes trolling the trolls themselves.
Not everything Hogg said about his haters on Sunday was nice, and he certainly didn't hold back with what he thinks about the people spreading the conspiracy theories. "These people are doing an amazing thing in the sense that they're showing how disgusting they are. The fact that they're calling out me, as a witness of this horrifying incident, saying that I'm a crisis actor? ... I feel sad for those people, honestly," Hogg told Stelter.
This is not the first time Hogg has addressed being a crisis actor. On CNN last week, Hogg told Anderson Cooper that he isn't one. "I'm someone who had to witness this and live through this and I continue to be having to do that," Hogg told Cooper. "I'm not acting on anybody's behalf."
He also spoke about the matter with BuzzFeed News, telling the site that "it's immature, rude, and inhuman for these people to try to destroy the people trying to prevent the death of the future of America because they won't." He added that he thinks the trolls' behavior says more about society right now than about his and his classmates' actions. "I think it's a testament to the sick immaturity and broken state of our government, when these people feel the need to pedal conspiracies about people that were in a school shooting," Hogg told Buzzfeed.
Hogg got in one final dig on Sunday that suggests he's likely to have the last word on the matter. "They've lost faith in America," he told Stelter. "But we certainly haven't. And that's ok, because we're going to outlive them" — and that very well may be what the haters fear.