There is one phone call that every parent dreads receiving. Nothing can prepare you for the heartbreaking loss of a child. But what is it like to have to make such a call, to have a job that requires connecting with grieving parents? The school shooting in Parkland, Florida, as well as other mass shootings that are becoming almost routine are a major concern in our time. The finger has been pointed at gun control, school security and a violence-obsessed culture as we contemplate why someone would do something so unfathomably horrible. All of these sources probably share the blame, and some more than others, but one stealthy enabler may be the very thing you are holding in your hands.
Advancements in media have allowed some wonderful things. From keeping in touch with old friends to sharing important news around the world, the benefits of media cannot be ignored. But, could there be a dark side to all of this publicity? The #NoNotoriety movement would suggest so. Caren and Tom Teves sparked this movement after finding out that their son had been affected by a mass shooting in the Aurora shooting in 2012 — nonotoriety.com. While trying to gather information about the victims immediately after the tragedy, they found that the coverage was majorly focused on the shooter. This was understandably infuriating as they watched explicit references to the shooter instead of news about their son, who had been killed in the shooting.
The #NoNotoriety movement challenges the media to shift the focus off of the shooter and onto the victims in mass shootings. There are many studies that have shown that publicity from mass shootings in mass media is a motivator for future shootings — bit.ly/1MpJ3rs. These killers are often isolated white males who hope to regain social capital through the fame they know they will acquire after the fact — bit.ly/2o1yWmK. Mental illness may further twist their thought processes to the point that the goal of infamy becomes more important than even their own lives. The movement calls for the media to refuse to mention the shooter’s name or likeness. It includes appropriate exceptions such as when the perpetrator is still at large and allows very brief coverage about the shooter. However, the hope is that the vast majority of coverage would focus on other aspects of the event, particularly the victims.
Of course, it is important to report the facts on events as significant as mass shootings and withholding information can be a slippery slope. It is important to record history, educate ourselves, learn from the past and make informed decisions. But perhaps we have lost sight of these purposes in the sea of violence flooding our screens and demanding our attention. Excessive shooter descriptions become a sort of advertisement for the news company by pulling interest from ethically murky waters. In an era when it is easier than ever to spread news about mass shootings, media companies must consider the ethical implications of their actions. The answer does not lie in either extreme of strictly eliminating all mention of the shooter or obsessing on his or her description for the sake of more viewers. Instead, we should seek an approach that respects the victims while educating the public on the necessary facts of the event by shifting the focus away from the shooter.