Another day, another mass shooting in America, and another round of endless news coverage speculating on the killers’ background, motives, and methods.
The mind-numbing frequency of these attacks has created enough data to suggest that the last part of this cycle may be planting the seeds for the next. That’s why it’s time to fundamentally rethink the way the news media covers these incidents.
A study this summer from Arizona State University found “significant evidence” that school shootings and other mass shootings were far more likely if there had been reports of a similar shooting in the previous two weeks.
And last year, after analyzing 160 mass shootings in the U.S. from 2000 to 2013, Andre Simons of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit concluded, “The copycat phenomenon is real.”
“As more and more notable and tragic events occur, we think we’re seeing more compromised, marginalized individuals who are seeking inspiration from those past attacks,” Simons said at the time.
The reporter’s typical mandate—to paint the clearest, most accurate picture of an event using all available information—may, in this case, be unintentionally encouraging further crime, sociologists and psychologists say.