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How We Cover Mass Shootings Affects How Many There Will Be

By in Huffington Post on June 14, 2017

By Erin Schumaker

As information filters in about the gunman who opened fire Wednesday on Republican congressmen at a baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, news organizations weigh their responsibility to inform the public of a newsworthy event against the possibility that the reporting will inspire future attacks.

A second shooting, later in the day at a San Francisco UPS facility, wasn’t related, but it only heightened the news frenzy.

“In most of these crimes, the killer gets much more publicity that any of the victims. When the killer is featured, the killer often becomes a celebrity,” Jack Levin, co-director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University told HuffPost.

That attention can be a dangerous incentive for would-be killers.

Like suicide contagion, a well-studied phenomenon in which media coverage of suicide increases suicide rates, there’s evidence to show that a similar contagion effect may be true of high-profile killings.

A study published in Plos One in 2015, for example, found that high-profile killings that received widespread media attention, such as school shootings, tended to happen in clusters, increasing in the two weeks following the attack, then returning to the usual pattern. The researchers did not find the same cluster phenomenon for lower-profile shootings.

“When there was likely to be national or international media coverage, those were the ones where we found contagion,” lead study author Sherry Towers told the Los Angeles Times.

According to Towers, 20 percent to 30 percent of new mass shootings appear to be inspired by a mass shooting in the recent past.

“I’m sure that this event is going to fit into this category,” Reid […]    

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