The media and mass shootings.

Since 2000, active shooter incidents have been steadily and substantially increasing.  The FBI reported that from 2000-2008, there was an average 6 active shootings that occurred per year. From 2008-2014, that number increased to nearly 15.9  incidents per year (see report). The latest report, which covers 2015 and 2016, show that the number rose to 17 incidents per year. Given the shooting incident we have seen in 2017, I believe we will see even more of an increase. This leaves many to wonder why these instances are increasing.

While I have no definitive proof what caused an increase in active shootings, I have a theory that someday I would like to explore in research. Until 2006, the national news media covered shootings, but in April of 2007 that all changed.  In April of 2007, a mass shooter went on the attack at Virginia Tech University. Soon, we heard the name of the shooter, and the 24 hour news media, the national news, and even the local news seemed to cover every aspect of the incident, including insignificant details. In my unproven theory, I believe this coverage inspired copycat shooters who were looking for fame. I also believe that social media plays a role in mass shootings, and there is research to somewhat support both of these contentions.

Recent research has led some, if not many, to believe that the key factor of increased active shootings is directly correlated to media coverage of these incidents. In a research report by Dr. Jennifer Johnston, and Andrew Joy, there were two theories that have been investigated and linked to mass shootings. They enter a long line of others that have worked to support the correlation between mass media covering every detail and an increased number of shootings. The two theories that are predominant are the Media Contagion Effect with the subcategory theory of the Copycat Effect.  One finding of this study that was extremely disturbing to me, is that for every three incidents of active shootings covered on television, at least one new incident is guaranteed, or copied, within 13 days.


More disturbing was research conducted by Garcia-Bernardo, Qi, Shultz, , Cohen, Johnson, and Dodds, studied the effect of social media on active shootings in schools. The correlations identified were in relation to the social media platform of Twitter. They reviewed millions of tweets about school shootings. When tweets about school shootings went beyond 10 tweets per million about an incident, then there was a 50% increase of a school shooting within eight days At nineteen days after a school shooting, if the amount of tweets went beyond ten per million, the potential for another shooting went up to 85%.  If tweets exceeded ten per million in the 35 days from a shooting, it was close to 100% likely that another active shooter in a school would occur.


I could go on and on about this research, and their findings, but it would do little to cure the problem. What in the media drives these individuals to take lives? Almost all of the researchers involved with active shooter/mass shooter research agree that they are looking for their 15-minutes of fame. How can we reduce these effects? It really is quite simple. First, we need to make sure that we don’t identify the shooter by name or with a picture in our social media. Yes, that is what I said. While the human mind wants to know every detail, those details are also what feeds, or at least partly feeds, the next shooter to act. If they see that there is no fame in shooting up a school, or church, or business, then they will look for that fame in other ways. The second thing is that the national and local media needs to quit using names, pictures, and all of the gory details about the shooting. In order to do that, they would have to put the good of the American public above the eventual money they receive from ratings.

Perhaps I sound a bit cynical, and I probably am a little bit. All I know is that nothing would make me happier than never having to do a seminar on preventing active shootings and bombings because they were a thing of the past; kind of like the plane hijacking in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Unfortunately, I do not see this happening in the near future, … Mark

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