On September 15, 2004, a 24-year-old man in the United Kingdom set out on a mission—but not the kind of mission on which a typical young adult embarks.
This particular young man set out on a two-day murder spree.
Wearing a ski mask and armed with a knife, he killed four people, including a geriatric couple, in their own homes. When finally apprehended and interrogated, the man was happy to admit to the killings and his eerie reasoning behind them—he wanted nothing more than to become a famous serial killer.
This case and others like it have sparked a national conversation. In recent years, The New York Times has asked “How Should the News Media Cover Mass Shooters?” followed by Los Angeles Times, which posed the question “Are the Media Complicit in Mass Shootings?”
The answer is simple: by giving a name and identity to mass murderers, media organizations are handing these murderers the fame they desire on a silver platter, as well as encouraging copycats who crave the same fame.
In a 2018 study conducted by Brad J. Bushman, it was found that narcissistic traits largely drive the psychology and behavior of mass shooters. Moreover, the study demonstrated that media outlets provide a stage for narcissistic individuals to become “stars” through extreme acts of violence, such as mass murders.
Media coverage of mass killers rewards the perpetrators with infamy, acts as an incentive for future fame-seekers to commit violent acts, and even provides a reason for these mass murderers to kill as many victims as possible in order to obtain more media attention.
The FBI, the International Police Association, victims’ families, and even media organization members themselves have released statements calling on media organizations to quit publishing the names and photographs of mass murderers.
Instead of plastering a mass murderer’s name and photograph on every television news program and on the front page of each newspaper, the media should shift their focus; direct attention to the victims of the crime. Talk about the wounded. Put a spotlight on the heroes.
Stop naming the murderers. Stop identifying the killers in these mass murders. Stop handing them the publicity they desire. Stop making them famous.