A call for media to stop sensationalising murder

Let’s put a stop to increasing copycat crimes

Jordan Zy

From the Columbine High School shootings in 1999 to the Boston Bombings in 2013, media services have reported murder and massacres with unsettling amounts of detail and coverage. But can too much information be a bad thing? The reality of copycat murders makes a strong case against the media for revealing loads of information about the attackers and their crime.

Nearly every disastrous massacre has reports of similar style crime in the weeks following major media coverages, whether the imitation of the crimes are conscious efforts or not. For example, in 2002, a 15-year-old stole a small plane and crashed it into a Bank of America building, citing the September 11 attacks in his suicide letter. Serial killings have become cult followings dating back since 19th century reports of Jack-the Ripper, with confirmed reports of media copycats of fictional serial killers as one man did after watching Showtime’s “Dexter”.

In the 1980s, media outlets realized their coverage of teen suicide was adversely affecting other teens, with steep inclines of copycat suicides after media coverages of those their age who had taken their lives. But how much coverage of teen suicide do you see today? Almost none. Even when the media follows suggested guidelines about suicide methods, they won’t spin it as a surprising act by a healthy person and won’t even use the word “suicide” in headlines.

So why do we report every detail about the killers in school shootings and other massacres? How is this not going to have a similar problem? Why do we get reports of the criminal’s methods, movements, favorite violent games, hardcore bands, and breakfast cereals within the first few days of the incident? Columbine, Sandy Hook, the Boston bombers, and even the terrorist cell in the Charlie Hedbo killing all had their faces plastered on every news station for weeks.

It isn’t going to be violent fiction that inspires the next killings by unstable persons, it’s the near guarantee that if they commit a shocking crime they’ll finally receive an entire nation’s attention. Terrorism and mass murderer will never be rational, but let’s not feed it anymore. Media coverage needs to reduce focus on the shocking crime, and the assailants, and keep their known facts minimal and simple. This means not releasing a photo and identity of the killers, not reporting on how gruesome the murders were, and essentially not giving a roadmap for how they killers could do it. Instead reports should consist of something like “a dozen were killed today by an assailant, our hearts and prayers go out of the families.”

Jordan is a senior studying psychology.