By WVUA 23 Web Writer Emily Strickland
A University of Alabama professor and researcher proposed changes in the way news media cover mass shooting events in a recent paper published by the American Behavioral Scientist.
Adam Lankford worked with University of Washington at Tacoma professor Eric Madfis on the paper “Don’t Name Them, Don’t Show Them, But Report Everything Else: A Pragmatic Proposal For Denying Mass Shooters The Attention They Seek and Deterring Future Offenders,” which both considers the history of mass shooters seeking fame for their actions and recommends changes to media coverage in the future.
“Because many attackers explicitly admit that they want fame and directly reach out to media organizations to get it, it has become essentially indisputable that as a society, we have been helping them achieve their goals,” Lankford said in a news release. “And, unfortunately, the offenders who kill more victims to get more publicity appear to be accurately exploiting predictable patterns in media behavior.”
Lankford and Madfis suggest that gun legislation, although practical, is too divisive of an issue to be “politically feasible.”
They also recognize the difficulties with implementing mental health approaches, including issues with proper diagnosis and data intended to identify potential attackers.
In their paper, Lankford and Madfis identify three consequences of media coverage, including perpetrators’ “fulfillment and incentive to achieve notoriety; competition among offenders to maximize victim fatalities; and copycat and contagion effects,” citing information from the 2007 Nebraska mall shooter, the 2011 Tuscon shooter, the Virginia Tech shooter, and the Columbine shooters that suggest fame and notoriety was a large factor in their decision to shoot.
Lankford proposed that media refrain from using names and images of current and past shooters while reporting all other aspects of the story in as much detail as possible. He and 140 other scholars, professors and law enforcement officials suggest that despite potential challenges stemming from information leaks, these standards should be implemented nationwide.
“Many actors, authors, composers, inventors, musicians, reporters and journalists would be far less motivated–and might simply give up and try something else–if they knew that no matter what they did, no one would ever know their names,” Lankford said. “So under similar constraints, how many prospective mass shooters would give up their attack plans and do something else instead?”
“It may be impossible to forecast an exact number, but even a small reduction mass killings would make a big difference to the victims who avoid tragic deaths, and their friends and families.”