In the wake of Christchurch mosques shooting in New Zealand that killed 50 people at two mosques, the shooter is expected to appear in court, but New Zealand’s Prime Minister said on Thursday that she wants to do everything to deny him of the attention that he craves for.
“He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in an address to Parliament. “But he will, when I speak, be nameless.”
“And to others, I implore you,” she added, “speak the names of those who were lost, rather than the name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing. Not even his name.”
Her comments that extend to other global news platforms and social media networks to put an end to the proliferation of hateful contents that reflects the global struggle to decongest the information pool from materials that validate the identity of those who should not be named.
Many argued that it is essential to name terrorists and mass shooters and publicize their identity to warn others who might have similar sinister intentions of the consequences they might face if they translate their thoughts to actions. However, it seems that this media strategy is not working.
The number of mass shootings in the US has increased exponentially since the early 2000s. On average, a mass shooting now occurs every 12.5 days. Before 2000, there were about three mass shootings per year. This increase has been seen to grow in the age where information is much more accessible. It appears that the more that these incidents are reported the more that people are inspired to follow their footsteps.
The gunman who attacked two mosques in New Zealand on Friday was said to have been inspired by the man who in 2015 killed nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. This furthers the contention that other mass shooters in the past practically inspire a new wave of mass shooters.
Experts call this “media contagion effect,” that media coverage can inspire others to copy the actions of criminals or commit similar crimes.
According to the study from University of Washington and University of Alabama, “prior research has shown that many mass shooters have explicitly admitted they want fame and have directly reached out to media organizations to get it. These fame-seeking offenders are particularly dangerous because they kill and wound significantly more victims than other active shooters, they often compete for attention by attempting to maximize victim fatalities, and they can inspire contagion and copycat effects.”
Adam Lankford, a criminologist at the University of Alabama, who has studied the influence of media coverage on future shooters, said it’s vitally important to avoid excessive coverage of shooters.
“A lot of these shooters want to be treated like celebrities. They want to be famous. So the key is not to give them that treatment,” he said.
Not only that identifying the perpetrators provide them the satisfaction of fame, no matter how bad the publicity is, creating an identity to mass shooters, terrorists, and heinous criminals allows sympathizers to generate a counter-narrative that will paint them in a better picture.
Once a shooter or a heinous criminal is identified, news reports will automatically pour in to discuss how a “good father” ended up to become one of the most horrifying mass shooters in history. When information about the shooter’s background, his childhood, his daily life comes into the picture, it is easy for supporters to create a narrative aims to solicit sympathy. And this is dangerous.
This shifts the conversation from “a man has killed 50 people after he shot them” to “a good man may have been motivated by his lack of father figure at home.” The idea of humanizing the perpetrators of mass shootings by creating their identity makes it easier for them to become relatable, reasonable, and for spectators to forget about their crimes.
According to Adam Lankford and Eric Madfis, “media organizations should no longer publish the names or photos of mass shooters (except during ongoing searches for escaped suspects), but report everything else about these crimes in as much detail as desired.”
This notion will not only prevent copy-cats from copying what these mass shooters have done, but it will also stop people from creating a ‘mass shooter archetype.’ While creating a profile of who mass shooters are is important for police investigations, it is not that necessary for people to know. These ‘archetypes’ only forward misguided stereotypes against people who share the same profile – hence the global contention that Islam equates terrorism.
Numerous academic findings lead to one conclusion: mass shooters should not be named. And the police and media should listen to them.