Should the media withhold the identities of mass shooters?
via AP

Should the media withhold the identities of mass shooters?

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After every mass shooting, the national media invariably obsesses over the identity of the perpetrator―plastering images of their face across news networks and obsessing over their background. Some believe this only encourages copycat killers, and media organizations should hide the identities of mass shooters from the public. But others argue it is important to learn all we can from mass shooters and burying the name and motive of a killer does nothing to stop the violence. What do you think?

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The Washington Post was slammed after it posted video footage of the Parkland shooter bragging about the mass murder he was planning to carry out.

“When you see me on the news, you’ll all know who I am,” he says before laughing. “You’re all going to die!”
"I had enough of people telling me I'm an idiot and a dumbass...you will all know who my name is. With the power of my AR you will all know who I am."

Many criticized the Post for giving the shooter exactly what he wanted: fame.

Following the mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 59 dead and over 500 wounded, a group of more than 140 experts wrote an open letter urging members of the media to stop naming mass shooters in their coverage of shootings.

We strongly urge you to take a principled stand in your future coverage of mass killers that could potentially save lives:

  1. Don't name the perpetrator.
  2. Don't use photos or likenesses of the perpetrator.
  3. Stop using the names, photos, or likenesses of past perpetrators.
  4. Report everything else about these crimes in as much detail as desired.

Many have argued that identifying mass shooters gives people the fame and attention they seek, which leads to copycat killers. Parents of one of the Aurora, Colorado victims, Tom and Caren Teves, started the No Notoriety campaign in 2012 with the slogan of "No name, no photo, no notoriety."

Caren Teves argued in a CNN interview that "rampage mass shooters crave the spotlight and the media is giving it to them."

The Reporting on Mass Shootings project gives members of the media-specific guidelines on how to cover mass shooting incidents in a way that can "educate the public" without "further traumatizing survivors, families and communities."

While the project does not outright condemn any identification of a mass shooter, it does encourage media outlets to use their names and photos sparingly and avoid sensationalizing shootings because "it may encourage people who may seek notoriety."

But some members of the media have pushed back against these arguments. Garrett W. Haake argues in WUSA that while the "no notoriety" arguments are "well-meaning" they are also "deeply misguided" and "pernicious abdications" of the most important duty of journalists.

By choosing not to name mass killers, journalists abdicate responsibility for asking and answering deeper questions about why an event took place, and what could have been done to stop it. Was the killer mentally ill? How did he (for the killers are nearly always men) acquire a weapon? Why did he target who he targeted? Who knew about the plot and what steps, if any, did they take to stop it? What signs were missed?

Haake believes that while reporting on tragedy is painful, it is necessary to provide as many facts as possible so an "informed debate" may come out of it.

Reporting on tragedy is a painful, ugly business. But facts matter to an informed debate. When law enforcement fails to provide the facts, or journalists fail to report them, we cheat ourselves out of the hard debates and discussions that should follow such appalling violence.

James Warren argues in The New York Times that there's "no clear, empirical evidence of a link between news media coverage and copycat shootings."

Some of the "experts" who surface occasionally tend to present anecdotal data drawn from small samples. There might seem a common-sense element to their argument, Applebaum says, but common-sense and data diverge.

Beyond the questionable evidence surrounding mass shooters motivation and media coverage, Warren believes real data and information about mass shooters can help researchers and law enforcement officials better understand these tragedies.

We need more data for real research to help law enforcement discern trends. We need more to avoid misinformation and conspiracy theories bred by ignorance and confusion. We need more to understand specifics of individual events, like what happened at the Oregon community college... We need more light, not less.
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