Ari Schulman Profile picture
Dec 14, 2017 24 tweets 7 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
On this terrible anniversary, some thoughts on the debate over the role of the media in mass shootings. #SandyHook /1
To start, I'll just reiterate that the evidence for a social contagion effect in mass shootings, fed by media attention, is extensive. Here's my closest look at that. 2/…
But this is a hard problem. A great many researchers agree that mass shootings are imitative. There is much less agreement on whether the effect is more conscious (infamy-seeking) or environmental (contagion). And also little consensus on how media should change practices. 3/
And it's easy to fall into the shock narratives shooters aim to craft even when you're trying to avoid them. Last month I opened my piece on the latest evidence for contagion by noting that the body count record has been broken recently. 4/…
The very same day, @markfollman published a piece showing how the competition to get just that kind of lede motivates shooters.

So this is hard, the more so for journalists who (unlike me) have to report these events as they unfold. 5/…
That said — and with several admirable exceptions, which I noted in my recent article — in general the media's response to the wealth of evidence for a contagion effect in mass shootings has been shallow, at times evasive or facile. 6/
There's a pretty consistent set of responses media members offer to calls for them to to reduce contagion effects and infamy motivations for mass shooters.

1. It's "shifting blame to the messenger." (USA Today editorial) 7/…
Or as a writer from Gawker once put it to me, "blaming the media is a cop-out." 8/
A closely related version: Not saying mass shooters' names on TV is "silly," "self-important" "moral preening" (@MichaelMcGough3). 9/…
2. Responding to questions about contagion and infamy as having to do with protecting the feelings of readers and victims — which is clearly beside the point of what researchers are saying. (Two examples in my article, but there are more.) 10/
3. Briefly noting points of uncertainty without meaningfully engaging the scope of the reporting and research. (Too many examples to list.)
4. Only responding to capacious, unrealistic minority views, like never using a shooter's name whatsoever — not responding, that is, to the many researchers like @zeynep who argue that mere differences of degree could matter a lot. 12/
I could go on. The point is, the debate has been adversarial. Researchers are angry, saying the media is giving mass shooters what they want; many journalists have responded with dismissiveness and mockery. 13/
When I talk to researchers, many think the media is driven by clicks and ratings, there's too much incentive for them to change their coverage of mass shootings. Maybe there's some truth in that, at least the executive level, but that's not what I mostly see. 14/
I see journalists who value above all their role as seekers and tellers of truth, even and especially horrifying ones. 15/
So the argument that journalists shouldn't help to dramatize the horror of mass shootings calls up the image of journalists bravely countering weak stomachs, puritanism, censorship. In short, it might actually be perfectly crafted to make journalists dig in their heels. 16/
And, well, our default indeed ought to be that journalism's role is to deliver (true) information, however disturbing, and other institutions should deal with the fallout. 17/
This indeed is the most common refrain. As @ErikWemple puts it, "deep investigation by news critical to stopping future shootings." 18/…
The perplexing, maddening problem is that what decades of media investigations keep showing is that media attention itself is a central component in why mass shootings keep happening. 19/
So to maintain this line — we can't change how we cover mass shootings, or how will we know why they happen? — journalists are having to do this strange dance around the very reporting they're supposed to be boldly defending. 20/…
I once wrote that mass shootings are "a theater of violence in which we are the unwitting yet compliant audience."

That's still true. And I've seen no deep attempt by journos to dispute it — only eyerolls, claims that it's not their job to worry about it. They're wrong. 21/21
(Will respond to @a's in a bit...)
Quick re-up of @markfollman's reporting recommendations for those asking for specifics.…
Re-upping this thread too.

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More from @AriSchulman

Sep 21, 2018
This is bonkers but not surprising. @adamjwhitedc's @tnajournal essay on Google's growing willingness to tweak its products to achieve political outcomes is proving remarkably prescient:…
If you're hitting the paywall, the lede graf sounds a bit innocuous; the kicker is here:
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@adamjwhitedc in @tnajournal again:…
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The wretched pending obliteration of the Outer Banks oddly brings to mind that the government in 1948 considered it as a nuclear test site before settling on Nevada. (And the Times in 1991 implied this was a mistake!)…
It's amazing how persistent a theme it is in the history of science and technology for proponents of nutty views to describe their proponents as "hysterical" and suggest sensible psychological measures to ameliorate it.
They were also considering nuclear testing on the coasts of Delaware, Maryland, or Virginia! Like 50 miles from D.C.!
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Sep 10, 2018
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Special bonus:
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Sep 7, 2018
Please no: A play in four acts.
The emoji-laden agent-bae tech support experience is enough to make one long for the authenticity of the hostile cabbie.
Perhaps I am overly finicky but a winky-face emoji seems slightly atonal here
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Sep 5, 2018
I wonder how long before someone runs textual fingerprint software on that anonymous Times op-ed to identify the admin staffer who wrote it.…
Before you get all hopped up on Pence lodestar Zodiac gate, here's Henry Kissinger saying "Honor was John's lodestar" in his eulogy last week, which presumably a great many people heard.
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Aug 29, 2018
NPR finds that more than 2/3 of school shootings reported by the Department of Education didn't actually happen.…
37 of the reported 235 "may have been intended for the previous item in the data collection."
Only 11 (!) of the 235 were independently confirmed by NPR.
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