What the Mass Media Doesn’t Tell You About Mass Shootings

The Cost of a Good Story.

Since the 1980s we’ve seen a rapid increase in the amount of mass shootings in the United States.  Guns ownership has always been ubiquitous in the United States.  It’s not like all of a sudden a massive crate of guns was dropped on the country during the 1980s.

If anything the opposite is true where in 1986 Ronald Reagan passed a fully automatic rifle ban and since then cities and states have passed more and more gun laws.  And that’s not to say there aren’t pros and cons to gun legislation, but when it comes to mass murder it’s absolutely clear that guns are not the core cause of their increasing frequency.  This is kind of awkward, but the core cause is you.  Now before you get your gun and point it at me, let me explain.

What has changed since the 1980s is where there use to only be a handful of major news networks, nowadays due to the internet, there is an infinite amount of news networks.  And whereas back in the day news networks succeeded by appealing to the broadest amount of people, which meant not being too controversial, nowadays media companies succeed by appealing to a niche market and being extremely controversial to rise above the noise.  This is why news reports are increasingly sensationalized, dramatic, louder, angrier, entertaining, hyperbolic, less substantive, and more detached from reality.

The reality is that the world, statistically speaking, has never been more safe, rich, and free!  But with that said there are still serious problems we face and just because things.  My hope is that we will be more intentional with how we absorb our news because what gets attention gets power.  Donald Trump is a prime example of that. Whether you love em or hate em, he is President of the United States, not despite the negative media coverage he received, but because of it. If the media was more substantive than sensational then he wouldn’t have gotten past the republican primary, but I don’t blame the media. The media is like any other business. It gives it customers what it wants. You wanted stories about Donald Trump and now you will get many more stories about Donald Trump for years to come.

And mass shooters are another example.

This is how it plays out…  Mass shooters want fame.

“We find that a cross-cutting trait among many profiles of mass shooters is desire for fame. This quest for fame among mass shooters skyrocketed since the mid-1990s in correspondence to the emergence of widespread 24-hour news coverage on cable news programs.” — Dr. Johnston, Author of Mass Shootings and the Media Contagion Effect.

The mass shooter then opens fire killing as many people as he can.  The news then covers every detail about the mass shooter. What underwear did he wear!? Hanes? Under Armour? Commando for sure!  You then pay attention to the story more than other stories, especially as the details of the killer pour in.

“The investigators applied a mathematical model and found that shootings that resulted in at least four deaths launched a period of contagion, marked by a heightened likelihood of more bloodshed, lasting an average of 13 days. Roughly 20 to 30 percent of all such violence took place in these windows.” — Scientific American

Everyone gets what they want, except for the victims of course: the mass murderer gets fame, the mass media gets money, and you get entertained.  Until recently I felt that way too. The reason Hitler could kill so many jews was because so many people were unaware and indifferent.  But ultimately I want to make two KEY points…

Scold Media on Social Media

If you decide to post something about a mass shooting I hope you scold the media.

“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.” —Dr. Johnston

More of us should REMIND the media that every time they show the killer’s face or say the killer’s name they are taking future lives.
The camera is more powerful than the gun.  Mass murder coverage should focus on the victims and heroes, not the killers, in order to reduce the “contagiousness” of another shooting.  And it’s not good enough to simply say nice things about the victims and bad things about the killers.  Simply showing the killer’s face is enough to promote future mass shootings. This is because a picture says a 1000 words.

My point is that I think it’s better to point the camera at meaningful solutions instead of nihilistic killers.

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