Saturday, 15 December 2012

Giving too much attention to mass killings is a bad idea

I think now would be a good time for me to clamber onto my soap box and start yelling at the various news outlets to stop covering the Connecticut tragedy in such a sensationalist manner. There's no need to print the number of dead in block Caps all over the headline, and there's really no need to publish pictures of the killer and explain exactly how he went about doing what he did whilst overlaying sounds of blaring sirens and images of distraught family members. It's not that I fear this information would offend some people's sensitivities, rather that the evidence shows how media storms can give rise to copycat events.

Dr Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist who now heads the Threat Assessment Group, has campaigned repeatedly against the media overblow that follows a serial killing event because of the effect it has upon those already close to the edge.

Could Raoul Moat have acted the way he did because of the coverage that Derrick Bird's activities received during June of 2010?

The year before the Columbine High massacre, there were two threats of shootings in Pennsylvania's schools. In the 50 days after it, there were 354.

And could coverage of the 1982 Chicago cyanide murders have influenced the subsequent copycat threats and events that lasted until 1986? Dr Dietz claims that, after he repeatedly requested that journalists sober up their coverage and wind it down, the rates of threats dropped dramatically.

The suicide rate in the US rose by 12% in the month after Marilyn Monroe killed herself - could that be an effect of the coverage, too?

In an interview with Huffington Post's Johann Hari, Dietz said,
"Mass murderers are almost always depressed to the point of suicide, and angrily blame others for their problems. You've got to imagine this small number of people sitting at home, with guns on their laps and a list of people they hate in their minds. They feel willing to die. When they watch the coverage of a mass murder, one or two will say - 'That guy is just like me! That's the solution to my problem.'... They will say this quite openly to you when you interview them. It's a conscious process... The massacre seems to offer them both an escape from their unbearable pain, and an opportunity to punish the people they blame for their plight."
Ultimately, serial killers ought to be forgotten about, ignored and consigned to the media bin for eternity. I sincerely hope that the TV, print and audio journalists out there will consider the impact of their coverage, because Dietz' warning of repeat killings seems to be well-grounded in evidence.

Charlie Brooker looked at this issue rather well in 2009:

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