Mass Shootings and the Media Contagion Effect by Jennifer Johnston and Andrew Joy.
According to the latest FBI analysis, mass shootings in the United States have increased three-fold in just the last fifteen years (Blair & Schweit, 2014). Recent analyses of media coverage followed by copycat incidents indicate a media contagion effect (Garcia-Bernardo, et al., 2015; Towers, Gomez-Lievano, Khan, Mubayi, & Castillo-Chavez, 2015). Lankford (2014; 2015) and Meloy, Sheridan, and Hoffman (2008) found that most shooters desired fame and wished to emulate a previous mass shooter. Madfis (2014) suggests that rampage shooters, who are almost all White men in early adulthood seek power and dominance that they perceive is their right, but perceive they are being denied, for various reasons, by society. Profiles of shooters indicate that they are often socially isolated and suffer a pattern of ostracization or bullying, yet they tend toward narcissism (Fox & Delateur, 2013; Fox & Levin, 2013; Meloy, 2014). Many fantasize about revenge or murder, and that this type of fantasy is not unusual or “extreme.” Buss’s (2005) research indicates up to 90% of men fantasize about murder. What tips the scales from fantasy to reality? We would argue identification with prior mass shooters made famous by extensive media coverage, including names, faces, writings, and detailed accounts of their lives and backgrounds, is a more powerful push toward violence than mental health status or even access to guns. First proposed by Phillips (1983), the violent media contagion effect was largely ignored by criminologists and psychologists, but more recently the evidence of the power of copycat homicide is mounting. Computer models developed by mathematicians note that the events cluster in time and by region (Garcia-Bernardo et al., 2015; Towers, et al., 2015), according to mass and social media coverage. Also, as Phillips (1974) and Stack (2002) determined, celebrity suicides were followed by a sudden spike of suicides in the general population, so mass media agreed to cease reporting names and some details of suicides since 1994 (O’Carroll & Potter, 1994). Our symposium panel of leading experts on this topic will examine the magnitude of the mass shooting media contagion effect, with an aim to suggest guidelines to the media about how, and how much, to cover specific details about the shooters with the aim of preventing a portion of mass murder.