1. There have been 164 mass shootings in the US since 1966. 1/5 occurred since 2014, >1/3 since 2010, and >1/2 since 2000. Overlooked factor contributing to increasing frequency of mass shootings: mass media (including “social”) coverage of such shootings - aka “media contagion”.
2. “Experts believe that this media coverage can inspire others to copy these actions or commit similar crimes. This is often called the media contagion effect, and it happens with suicide, terrorist attacks, and mass shootings.” center4research.org/copy-cats-kill/
3. The Columbine school shooting got more attention on CNN than the death of Princess Diana. In the month that followed, 400 related incidents were reported across the US. Students called in bomb threats and praised the shooters’ actions. Some schools shut down temporarily.
4. In 2007, a Virginia Tech student killed 32 students and faculty. Prior to the shooting, he expressed a desire in writing to mimic Columbine. Since then, many shooters have cited the Virginia Tech gunman as an inspiration and others have threatened to “top” his 32 victims.
5. Studies indicate that the more media attention a shooter gets, the more likely the event will inspire a future mass shooter. A 2015 study found that after a mass shooting, there was an increased chance of another one occurring in the next 13 days.
6. A 2017 study found that media coverage of a mass shooting may increase the frequency and lethality of future shootings for much longer than two weeks. Communities developed online that treat the shooters as heroes and create fans and followers who obsess about the shooters.
7. Two weeks after the Parkland school shooting in 2018, 638 copycat threats - many were hoaxes that in turn generated media - targeted schools nationwide. As long as media focus their news stories on the attacker, it is likely that these copycats will continue.
8. Dr. Adam Lankford of the University of Alabama has conducted several key studies of media coverage of mass shootings and motivations of the shooters. He found that between 2010 and 2017, some mass shooters got more media attention than celebrities, such as Brad Pitt.
9. In the months following a shooting, the shooters continued to get more attention than professional athletes and only slightly less than film and TV stars. Lankford also studied 24 mass shooters who openly admitted they wanted fame or contacted the media directly to get it.
10. Studies of mass shooters that are based on available documentation and interviews found that many had narcissistic personalities that crave fame and attention; narcissistic personality disorder is often not considered a mental illness.
11. The American Psychological Association recommends that mass media deny shooters the fame they desire by not sharing so many details about them and instead direct their attention to the victims and their stories.
12. Campaigns like #DontNameThem (a campaign of the FBI and Texas State University) and #NoNotoriety (created by a couple in honor of their son who died in theater shooting) urge media to cover tragic incidents without naming the shooters or describing their lives or motivations.
13. So the U.S. is trapped in concentric vicious cycles: More guns in circulation increase risk of shootings which increase threats from politicians to ban guns, which increase gun sales which increases shootings…while media coverage of the shooters/shootings inspires copycats.
14. A staggering 1/3 of mass shootings since 1966 occurred after social media took off. What should be done to limit the spread of content that could inspire copycats? What standards should professional journos embrace? Who is asking these questions?
15. We’ve always had violent movies+video games (which most people can dismiss as fiction/not to be emulated) but now we are in an age where mass shootings have become a morbid reality show milked for ratings and followers by media companies and social media personalities alike.
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