“Violence is the quest for identity”
A 29-year-old man walks directly into Pulse nightclub in Orlando carrying an assault rifle and a handgun. He opens fire into an unsuspecting crowd full of unaware 18-40 year olds.
After brutally murdering countless innocent victims, he retreats into the bathroom.
He pulls out his phone and checks Facebook.
He wants to see if he's made it on the news.
What makes a mass murderer?
Well, it's a tough question. It doesn't come down to any one particular thing.
It can be a crazy person, hearing voices and experiencing delusions. It can be a psychopath, killing without any empathy for their victims. It can be an act of revenge on a particular group of people, or simply the world itself. It can be because they are suicidal and figure they may as well take others to the grave with them. It can be for ideological or religious reasons.
But for some, they commit mass murder because they want notoriety.
They want to be remembered.
Now these people are not special. And they're not clever. They've been around for a long long time.
These kinds of people can be found as far back as 356 BC
At the time, this temple was regarded as one of the seven wonders of the world. A magnificent work of art known worldwide.
One night, 13th October, 356 BC, Herostratus crept into The Temple of Artemis and burnt it down from the inside.
The people of Ephesus watched in horror as their pride and glory burnt before their eyes. Herostratus ran out to greet them.
He made no attempt to hide what he had done. Instead, he boasted about what he had done to everybody watching. He proudly told everyone his reason for committing the crime: To be famous.
Herostratus was a nobody. he had no riches, No achievements. And he wanted his name to live through the ages.
He was executed immediately. The Ephesians wanted to make sure his plan of becoming famous never came true. So they made it illegal to even mention the name Herostratus.
But in later centuries, after the fall of the Ephesian civilisation, historians started to use his name once again.
Herostratus had achieved his goal. His name is still remembered to this day. His name has outlived even the judges who sentenced him to death.
Named after him, a term was coined. Herostratic Fame: Fame deliberately acquired by destructive means.
A kind of fame desired by many of the mass murders today.
Kill People, Get famous
"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 like the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight" - Oregon 2015 shooter - killer of 9 teenagers.
And the thing is, he's absolutely right.
Think to yourself right now. The Columbine shooting. The Sandyhook shooting. The Parkland shooting. The Pulse nightclub shooting. The Aurora theatre shooting. Can you remember the shooter's face? Can you remember the name?
You may find that a name or a face springs into mind.
How about the victims? Can you remember their faces? How about the school teachers who sacrificed their lives to protect children. Can you remember their names or faces?
The identity of the mass murderer gets a place in history while the victims and heroes are forgotten.
Something about this is sickeningly backwards.
For a time, the mass shooter becomes one of the most famous people in their country and oftentimes, the whole world. For weeks, their face is plastered across TV news stations. internet news and newspapers. Over and over again.
Their lives are talked about extensively. We hear from their friends and family. We see footage of his house, his school, where he routinely went for lunch. His motivations are discussed. Was he bullied? Was he crazy? What kind of person was he? Intelligent? Did he get good grades at school?
If the goal is fame, then clearly he's achieving it.
"When you see me on the news you’ll know who I am. You're all going to die. Pew! Pew! Pew!" Parkland 2018 Shooter - Killer of 17 students
And then you have the manifestos.
The 21-year old Charleston shooter, who killed 9 people inside a church, left a manifesto describing his hatred for black people.
The 39 year old shooter, who killed 69 people on an island in Norway, left a 1500 word manifesto stating his anti-multiculturalism agenda.
The Isla Vista shooter who killed 6 people left a lengthy manifesto explaining how unfair treatment women had given him through his life justified his shooting.
With each manifesto, the media will discuss it's contents in seriousness. Showing the manifesto to millions of viewers. Debating it. As if it should be taken seriously at all.
Not only is the shooter being remembered, but all of his ideas and beliefs are being showcased to the world. As if it's an important document written by an influential thinker.
Manifestos that will later go on to inspire others to create mass murder stories of their own.
"Infamy is better than total obscurity ... I never knew how to gain positive attention, only negative" - Isla Visa shooter - Killer of 6 people
The Copycat Killer
"Everyone knows that mass murderers are the cool kids.” Sandy hook shooter - Killer of 20 children.
When saying this, the Sandyhook shooter was was talking about the Columbine killers of 1999, who he admired deeply. He downloaded multiple videos of the Columbine shooters and he wrote extensively on a blog dedicated to Columbine
Then, next in the chain, comes the Oregon 2015 shooter who made a video praising the Sandyhook shooter.
Each of these mass murderers express admiration for the mass murderers that came before them. Like a sick tradition being passed down the generations.
Psychologists talk about a "contagion effect" in which the idea of mass murder can pass from person to person. Mass shootings seem to come in bursts. After a major mass shooting, other smaller shootings or threats of shootings all come in a cluster.
As crazy as it sounds, we already know that the contagion effect applies to suicides, self-harm, eating disorders, happiness and sadness. So is it really so crazy to think the same could be true for mass murder?
At the very least, it puts the idea in people's heads that mass murder is even a possibility in the first place.
At this stage, the scientific consensus is clear. Mass murders inspire mass murders.
So it may be a good idea to take a look at the force that projects the idea of mass murders into the brains of millions of people across the world. The mass media.
"I know we're going to have followers because we're so fucking godlike." - One of two Columbine Shooters in 1999 - Killers of 13 people
How The Media Encourages Mass Murder
“Terrorists. Hijackers. These are people minus identity. They are determined to make it somehow. To get coverage. To get noticed.” - Marshall Mcluhan
You were born long after television was invented. Long after the radio began broadcasting worldwide.
Its easy to forget then, that the mass media hasn't always been around.
Its a recent force in the world. And we don't really understand how it effects people. It certainly isn't something found in the 150 person caveman tribes that our bodies and minds are adapted to.
In the past, if somebody decided to kill a handful of people in their tribe, only those close to the event would even be aware that anything happened.
But today, if you decide to kill a handful of people, the world knows.
It's not just a few people in your small tribe that knows your name, it's millions of people. And you have to ask yourself, what does this do to a person? To know that this level of fame and noterity is available them. To get the idea in their head, that their name could be in the history books through the decades with only a simple act.
Let's see. How do those in the mass media decide to report these mass murders?
Sensationalise. Dramatise. Essentially, make it similar to the an introduction to a Hollywood movie.
The media will then discuss his character in-depth, digging through his beliefs, past behaviour and private online behaviour. For a time, the shooter will get more attention than anyone on the planet.
Without hesitation, they showcase the killer's Youtube videos. Which are easy for anybody to find online.
This media outlet also has no problem with airing his "manifesto"
A few years later, this manifesto is the bedrock to an online Incel (Involuntarily Celibate) community. A toxic community that churned out a 17-year-old high school shooter who went on to kill 10 innocent people.
While the Incel community does distance itself from this Santa Fe shooter, it does show a fair amount of admiration for Elliot Rodger and his manifesto. A manifesto that will undoubtedly influence another mass shooter in the years to come.
At this point, you need to step back and ask:
Why are the media doing exactly what these murderers want?
"I'll see you on National T.V.!" 2011 Tuscon shooter - Killer of 6 people (Who then later appeared on national TV).
Why does the shooter get more attention than the victims?
Why do they show the shooters name and face?
Why do they show the weapons of choice for the murder?
Why do they sensationalise and dramatise the event as if the shooter is some kind of action hero?
A news spokesperson will tell you that it's their "duty" to report all the facts to their audience. That they're just giving their audience what it wants.
This is bullshit.
And this is fundamental reason why.
The primary function of The News is to make money for their advertisers
An increase of 1-2% in a TV channels Gross Rating Point (A measure of exposure frequency of advertising) means profits of millions of dollars.
As soon as a school shooting happens, the game begins.
News sources need to compete with each other to get as many viewers as possible
If one TV news channel names the shooter, another one has to name the shooter too, else they lose viewers to competing news sources. If one news source is only stating vague facts about the incident and the other is going into detail about the shooters motivations, then people will switch over to the latter news source.
This truth could not be move evident than the media coverage of the aftermath of the San Bernadino shooting.
After the landlord forced the door of the shooter's house with a crowbar, hundreds of reporters immediately swarmed inside.
They began digging around the shooter's belongings, seeing if they could find anything newsworthy.
Watch and see this one reporter actually rearrange the child's bed to appear more newsworthy for the audience:
Now let's make something clear. Most of the individuals working for the news media don't see it this way. For them, they believe in what they do. They go through a lot of discomfort to report the news of mass murders to us.
No, it's not the individuals. It's the fact that the very structure of the news will always be based around advertising. It's a sum of all the parts of the news machine, that will always bend towards feeding the advertisers.
It's nobody's fault and it's everybody's fault.
But maybe you still think this is all ok. It's a journalists responsibility to give us every single detail isn't it? You can't censor the news.
Some details are important to cover, whereas others are not. As these copycat shootings continue, one simple, stupefyingly obvious solution has been suggested over and over again.
DON'T NAME THEM
The idea is simple: Don't name them. Don't show their face. Tell us every single other detail.
This simple change has the potential to save countless lives in the future.
Pssssh...but people will find out anyway. You can find everything online these days
Yes, but only by somebody that is actively seeking out inspiration from mass shooters. No name and a blurred face makes the shooter less intriguing. They're just some other criminal without an identity.
Less people knowing the shooters identity means less copycat shooters. Its as simple as that.
And more importantly, no name and a blurred face stops the shooter from getting the herostatic fame they desire.
Their names wouldn't go down in history.
Instead, Their names would disappear into the abyss of time.
Just like any other murderer.
But freedom of the press! The press has the right to publish anything it wants! Censorship it bad!
There are things the media already censor.
They don't give out the names and faces of those who commit suicide, because it can encourage others to do the same.
Naked streakers in sports games have their face (And their private parts) censored because it helps stop copycat streakers doing the same thing.
No. Like it or not, the ultimate reason why the media continues to insist on showing the shooters name and face is because it's just too juicy of a story to resist.
And what. Are you seriously going to not post the shooters name and face? When every other news channel did? All the other TV channels, internet news and print media are using the deaths of innocent people as a cash cow to bring in revenue.
Why the fuck wouldn't we do it as well?