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Monday, August 20, 2018
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Is media coverage creating more school shootings?

CONTAGION EFFECT: IS IT A THING?

The front page of the New York Times on Saturday featured expansive coverage of the boy who shot students at his high school in Santa Fe, Texas, killing 10 of them and injuring several others.

The stories of the victims were featured, but large on the page was the photo of the troubled young man, now a killer, who had spared some students “so he could have his story told.”

Hawkins

The New York Times and news media around the world obliged him and fed what appears to be a contagion of mass shootings at schools around the country.

 

Two days before the Santa Fe shooting, a former student of Dixon High School in Dixon, Illinois, opened fire with a 9 mm semi-automatic rifle, a common firearm, but was stopped by a police officer. The 19-year-old suspect is now in jail.

In Anchorage last week, a Dimond High School student was arrested after making a verbal threat to shoot up the school.

THE CONTAGION THEORY

Newspaper editors have long honored the requests of suicide prevention experts, who theorize that reporting suicides actually cause more suicides to occur. But does news coverage and social media also increase the incidences of mass shootings?

Arizona State University researchers analyzed news coverage of gun-related rampages from 1997 to 2013. Using a mathematical model, they found that shootings resulting in four or more deaths launched a contagion that spread like a virus, lasting an average of 13 days. In other words, when news coverage occurs relating to mass shootings, more mass shootings occur. Some 20-30 percent of extended violence was documented.

Other behaviors have also been theorized as contagious, including disordered eating leading to obesity as well as anorexia, suicide attempts, and psychogenic illnesses.

Researchers from the University of Vermont tracked K-12 school shootings and college mass shootings, along with social media chatter, to establish a causal relationship between the media reaction and what may be a copycat effect.

If that is the case, then Second Amendment proponents have more to point to than just parents needing to take more responsibility for their children’s access to firearms and violent video games. The media needs to do some reflection on coverage. But in an era of social media, how will our society stop the wildfire of online chatter that could be unwittingly influencing alienated, disaffected young people with guns?

Is the fact that schools are staging “active shooter” training with students contributing to the contagion?

[Read The Atlantic Magazine: Mass shootings are spreading like an epidemic]

[Read Malcolm Gladwell: How school shootings catch on]

Add your thought below about whether there is a contagion effect with school shootings.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

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