In the immediate aftermath of any tragedy, we often struggle to make sense of the situation. The senseless loss of life following a mass shooting is no exception. Various experts and media talking heads list all the potential antecedents that pushed a mentally unstable person to commit such an atrocity. The frequently cited causes of domestic mass murder include bellicose political rhetoric, violent song lyrics, psychiatric drugs, video games, disenfranchisement, mental health issues, and access to firearms (although the effect of gun control on preventing such events is inconclusive).
It would be rash to assume that any one of these purported preconditions for molding a mass murder is the sole reason for these tragedies. It is more likely that various environmental, genetic, and social factors drive a person to perpetrate such heinous acts. One potential cause of violence that often gets overlooked; is media coverage of such incidents .
Even when we take a cursory view of the incentives of media outlets, they are not going to take any responsibility for inspiring new school shooters and other varieties of a deranged shooter. After all, they are the mouthpiece for all the experts touting the evils of Marilyn Manson (I apologize for the dated reference), political extremism, and guns. Fixating on these gruesome stories and participating in conspiratorial conjecture about the impetus was for a demented young man to kill innocent people. Sadly, negativity sells, making it lucrative for business. Human beings are plagued by what is known as the negativity bias; we are more apt to engage with articles or news programming that has a negative tone. News outlets lay into this bias by exaggerating the severity of negative news. Validated by the fact that fifty percent (p.5) of news coverage features stories on crime. Media companies have a lot to gain from obsessively presenting all the gory updates on the Uvalde massacre. Business is good when you have audience captivity by the horror and depravity of a madman.
At its core, the dynamics of how media outlets cover mass shootings is a Prisoner’s Dilemma. The media companies act in their self-interest by bombarding us with all the horrific details of these mass killing events. This is done so with little consideration for the ethical consequence of how the story is framed. Typically, there is more coverage of the perpetrator than on the heroes who intervened and stopped the killing spree or even the victims (p.22). The tight focus on the gunman aggrandizes the image of the killer. In the mind of narcissistic (p.16) or otherwise mentally unstable people, they become the protagonist in the story of a folk anti-hero. The previous mass shooter serves as a template for how to quickly gain notoriety. In the canonical literature, there is a model known as the contagion effect, where essentially publicized shootings beget more publicized shootings. We begin to see copycat shooters. A 1999 study found that “.. of 83 would-be mass killers or assassins, who noted that evidence in their belongings or writings indicated that 38% of them emulated previous killers…”(p.24). A 2013 study, found a positive correlation between tweets about mass shootings and the likelihood of another one occurring (p.27). The shooters end up “defecting” by orchestrating and executing a shooting event, believing they are acting in their self-interest by indulging their angst and narcissism.
The suboptimal results in this situation would be the victims of the shooting. They are merely collateral damage in the pursuits of media outlets and mass shooters. Truly this mutual defection is the story of excesses. Whether it be improperly channeled rage, vanity, and narcissism or profit and callous political opportunism , innocent people had to die to achieve these ends.
1.) The suggestion that the media companies bare some responsibility for mass shootings is not an indictment of capitalism or freedom of the press. This presents an ironic fact; news outlets blame many distal factors for shootings; it never occurs to them to look in the mirror. Especially considering that most mass murders have proclivities towards narcissism.
2.) The incentives structure of media outlets may extend beyond the profit-loss mechanism, as they are generally ideologically driven. Many of the news channels and publications of esteem are politically left-wing, meaning they may also have anti-gun agenda. In effect; driving the obsessive coverage of gun violence.