Whenever you see news coverage of a mass shooting event that includes any details about the shooter, change the channel. Most content providers these days get near real-time data about the number of people watching, and if you want to help, all you have to do is reduce those numbers. Change the channel if they're giving details about the shooter, showing his picture, reading from his blog or trying to find his motive. That's it.
Here's why it works, from the WSJ article: What Mass Killers Want—And How to Stop Them
Let me stress that this whole article is worth a read. I hope the snippets that follow will encourage you to read it through, because you'll understand the phenomenon and how to help better, but here are the basics:
Whatever the witch's brew of influences that produced this grisly script, treating mass killings as a kind of epidemic or contagion largely frees us from having to understand the particular causes of each act. Instead, we can focus on disrupting the spread.
There is a precedent for this approach in dealing with another form of violence: suicides. A 2003 study led by Columbia University psychiatrist Madelyn Gould found "ample evidence" of a suicide contagion effect, fed by reports in the media. A 2011 study in the journal BMC Public Health found, unsurprisingly, that this effect is especially strong for novel forms of suicide that receive outsize attention in the press.
Some researchers have even put the theory to the test. In 1984, a rash of suicides broke out on the subway system in Vienna. As the death toll climbed, a group of researchers at the Austrian Association for Suicide Prevention theorized that sensational reporting was inadvertently glorifying the suicides. Three years into the epidemic, the researchers persuaded local media to change their coverage by minimizing details and photos, avoiding romantic language and simplistic explanations of motives, moving the stories from the front page and keeping the word "suicide" out of the headlines. Subway suicides promptly dropped by 75%.
This approach has been recommended by numerous public health and media organizations world-wide, from the U.K., Australia, Norway and Hong Kong to the U.S., where in 2001 a similar set of reporting guidelines was released jointly by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Mental Health and the surgeon general. It is difficult to say whether these guidelines have helped, since journalists' adherence to them has been scattered at best, but they might still serve as a basis for changing the reporting of massacres.
How might journalists and police change their practices to discourage mass shootings? First, they need to do more to deprive the killer of an audience:
Never publish a shooter's propaganda. Aside from the act itself, there is no greater aim for the mass killer than to see his own grievances broadcast far and wide. Many shooters directly cite the words of prior killers as inspiration. In 2007, the forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner told "Good Morning America" that the Virginia Tech shooter's self-photos and videotaped ramblings were a "PR tape" that was a "social catastrophe" for NBC News to have aired.
Hide their names and faces. With the possible exception of an at-large shooter, concealing their identities will remove much of the motivation for infamy.
Don't report on biography or speculate on motive. While most shooters have had difficult life events, they were rarely severe, and perpetrators are adept at grossly magnifying injustices they have suffered. Even talking about motive may encourage the perception that these acts can be justified.
Police and the media also can contain the contagion of mass shootings by withholding or embargoing details:
Minimize specifics and gory details. Shooters are motivated by infamy for their actions as much as by infamy for themselves. Details of the event also help other troubled minds turn abstract frustrations into concrete fantasies. There should be no play-by-play and no descriptions of the shooter's clothes, words, mannerisms or weaponry.
No photos or videos of the event. Images, like the security camera photos of the armed Columbine shooters, can become iconic and even go viral. Just this year, the FBI foolishly released images of the Navy Yard shooter in action.
Finally, journalists and public figures must remove the dark aura of mystery shrouding mass killings and create a new script about them.
Talk about the victims but minimize images of grieving families. Reports should shift attention away from the shooters without magnifying the horrified reactions that perpetrators hope to achieve.
Decrease the saturation. Return the smaller shootings to the realm of local coverage and decrease the amount of reporting on the rest. Unsettling as it sounds, treating these acts as more ordinary crimes could actually make them less ordinary.
Tell a different story. There is a damping effect on suicide from reports about people who considered it but found help instead. Some enterprising reporters might find similar stories to tell about would-be mass shooters who reconsidered.
If you see any information outlet failing to do the right thing, change the channel. Only a drop in ratings will help them alter their coverage, and you drive ratings. If you want to do even more, then write the management of the information outlet where you saw sensationalized coverage, send them the link to this or a similar article, and let them know you'll contact their advertisers about that station's perpetuating of the "blood porn" problem in our society.
This will have more impact than getting a CCW and carrying, though if you want to I encourage that. Changing the channel, contacting management and contacting advertisers can have nationwide effects.
Make a difference today and we can reduce or even eliminate these horrific events. You can change the world with the remote control in your hand.