Does Media Coverage of Mass Shootings Promote Copycats?

Mark Mahaffey
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Mark Mahaffey

Mark is the President of Best Security Products, a leading systems integration company based in Escondito, CA with service throughout California, Arizona and Nevada.
Mark Mahaffey
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Its no surprise that mass shootings are on the rise and dominate the news headlines. This type of situation has become so common it’s almost jarring. Concerts, churches, schools, nothing seems safe anymore. We barley have time to recover from one tragedy when another is thrust upon us in the national news.  Is there any correlation to the amount of news coverage and similar acts of violence? With the proliferation of 24 hour news stations, the internet, and other social media outlets with instant access to breaking news the competition has never been greater for peoples attention. Also a major contributor is the fact that these type of stories produce a lot of “eyeballs” that advertisers pay for, so it’s “good for business”.

Who are the people that commit such heinous acts?

According to the American Psychological Association people who commit mass shootings in America share three common traits: rampant depression, social isolation, and pathological narcissism. The demographic profile is fairly consistent. Most are white heterosexual  males, between the ages of 20-50. They tend to see themselves as “victims of injustice”, and share a belief that they have been cheated out of their rightful dominant place in society.

Another disturbing trait among the profiles of mass shooters is the desire for fame, and this has skyrocketed since the mid – 1990’s in correspondence to the rise of 24 hour news coverage, and the internet during the same time. Step into the mind of a troubled person who feels outcast, unseen, forgotten, and when he sees a chance to suddenly be elevated to a national platform, he may just take that opportunity. The principle of a West Paducah Ky. high school said “attention is attention and this is the ultimate attention getting” describing the aftermath of the shooting at his high school in 1997, and the media frenzy that followed.

Is the media part of the problem?

There is no doubt that mass shootings are on the rise and so is the media coverage of them so at this point, can we determine which came first? More shootings lead to more coverage, or is it that more coverage leads to more shootings? Jennifer Johnston PhD. and her coauthor Andrew Joy reviewed data from media outlets, the FBI, and advocacy groups, as well as scholarly articles, to conclude that “media contagion” is largely responsible for the increase in these often deadly outbursts. The prevalence of these crimes has risen to the relation to the mass media coverage of them and the proliferation of social media sites that tend to glorify the shooters and downplay the victims,

Research by Sherry Towers (Towers et al. 2015) regarding media contagion models found the rate of mass shootings has escalated to an average of one every 12.5 days, and one school shooting on average every 31.6 days, compared to pre – 2000 level of about three events per year.

Is there anything we can do?

If the mass media and social media enthusiasts make a pact to no longer share, reproduce or retweet the names, faces, detailed histories or long winded statements of killers, we could see a dramatic reduction in mass shootings in one to two years. Even conservatively if the calculations of contagion modelers are correct, we should see at least a one third reduction in shootings if the contagion is removed.

This approach was adopted when the media stopped reporting celebrity suicides in the mid 1990’s after it was corroborated that suicide was contagious. There was a clear decline in suicides by 1997, a couple of years after the Center for Disease Control convened a working group of suicidologists, researchers and the media, and then made recommendations to the media. The media came together before to work for good, to incite social change, they have done it before, and they can do it again.

It’s impossible to erradicate irrational acts of violence from troubled people . What can be done as what was accomplished with suicide prevention in 1997, the media has shown that it can change trends by ending the ceaseless publicity of societal problems and in this case the glamorization of these killers.

 

 

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