Media and Violence: A Love Affair
Zayn Roohi / Photo Editor
I feel guilty.
Last Thursday ten people were killed and seven wounded in a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, and all I did was turn on the news and watch the violence.
For the next week, the name, life and motive of the killer will be broadcast all over the country through the TV, web and radio. Most people will think of these men as murderers, but the intense news coverage will make others see them as martyrs.
After an August shooting in Virginia, the Umpqua shooter posted on his blog that that he thought it was fascinating when a previously unknown person becomes famous for such a simple act.
“A man who was known by no one is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight,” he wrote.
This line of thinking is not unusual in people who commit mass shootings, most of the time they’re looking for a combination of attention and revenge. And we give them exactly what they want.
A July study published in the Public Library of Science (PLOS) explains how media coverage influences shootings. According to the study, mass shootings spread in a fashion similar to contagious diseases when the media is saturated with details about the killer and their violent acts. A desire for attention mixed with anger leads a person to commit new shootings in the hopes that they will get the same media coverage.
This is not the only way that media influences us. An August study by the American Psychological Association suggests that teen exposure to violence in news, movies and video games slowly builds up a tolerance to committing violent acts, leading people to act more aggressively in the future.
And it’s not just the criminals who watch this violent news. From ancient Roman death fights to modern boxing, audience turnouts and online view counts prove that we love to see people hurt each other, and the media knows that. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, people would rather watch dramatic and negative news and skip out on the positive pieces due to our more sensitive fear emotions.
So, we’re shown exactly what we want to see, because more viewers mean higher ratings and higher ratings mean extra funding.
You could call it a win-win situation.
Except no one wins. Not the nine people who were murdered, not the military vet who took five bullets to tackle the shooter and definitely not the families who lost their children.
I know none of their names.
Then there’s the nursing student who tried to save dying students, the police who showed up and put their lives on the line to rescue students and the student firefighters who vainly tried to use their newly developed paramedic skills for good.
But it’s the killer’s name I know.
I feel guilty.