The Name Game
Does the media releasing the name of mass shooters endanger our society?
I still remember the first mass shooting I saw on the news. On April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho went on a massive rampage on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and killed 32 people and wounded 17. This attack was the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in U.S. history at the time.
However, I don’t remember the victim’s names or even what they look like. All I remember is Seung-Hui Cho and his face plastered on every news channel and the details of his horrific attack analyzed. It seems that the killers are getting more recognition for their horrific acts instead of the victims who lost their lives.
According to the F.B.I., there has been an average of 16.4 mass shootings a year since the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, up until 2013. The number has risen drastically from an average of 6.4 shootings between 2000 and 2006.
Many people, including myself, ask the question of ‘why are mass shootings becoming more common in the U.S.’? When it seemed that it couldn’t get worse after the Virginia Tech shooting, Sandy Hook happened.
5 years after the Virginia Tech shooting, Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children, between the ages of six and seven, and six adults. It became the second deadliest shooting in the U.S., behind Virginia Tech.
After Sandy Hook, President Obama announced that the age of mass shootings needed to end. His administration and law enforcement now had an agenda to figure out how this country could stop the shootings from happening.
F.B.I. analysts reported that many of the gunman in these mass shootings had studied high-profile shootings, such as the one at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. It seemed that the gunmen were attracted to the extensive media coverage that mass killers received after a shooting.
According to Arizona State University, 20 to 30 percent of attacks are set off by other attacks. It seems that the constant media coverage of shooters and their acts are inspiring others to become copycats.
According to the elaboration likelihood model (ELM), by Richard Petty and John Cacioppo, an individual forms an attitude about an object, event, or experience from a message depending on their motivation to process the message.
In most cases, the general public forms, under ELM, a peripheral processing attitude when the names of the shooters are released in the media. We quickly process the information but it doesn’t not have a lasting effect on our attitude.
However, for individuals that are mentally instable or have a desire for their five minutes of fame, they engage in central processing when names and details of shootings are broadcasted on the media. They carefully listen, evaluate how the shooter conducted their act, and then the message has a lasting effect on their attitude.
According to John Van Dreal, a psychologist, said that when mass shootings “get so played up in the media, it becomes heroic to the kids who are thinking about doing it.” These kids fall under the central processing theory.
While the media is supposedly doing their responsibility of reporting to the public the incidents of the shootings, we generally absorb the information but don’t take it much further than just a sad attitude towards the families of the victims.
However, some individuals are noticing how much attention the killers are receiving and collecting information on how the attack was planned. They are taking this information and are planning on doing something with it.
Jared Loughner, who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Tucson, Arizona, in 2011 posted on his MySpace page prior to the attacks saying, “I’ll see you on National TV!”
As a result, the media releasing the names of the killers may be contributing to the rise of mass shootings. The F.B.I. classifies this correlation between the media exposure of the killers and the number of mass shootings as the “Columbine effect”. Shooters are wanting to outdo the body count of the worst high school massacre at Columbine High School.
However, this rise in concern of the “Columbine effect” has stirred a movement in America the last few years. News outlets and law enforcement officers are refusing to name the killer or show their image and instead direct the attention towards the victims.