Is The Mass Media, Not Violent Video Games, Responsible For Mass Shootings?
There has been a consistent roar from parents, social workers, and psychologists since the famous Bandura studies because they clearly evidenced the fact that modeling aggressive behavior promotes aggressive behavior in children.
The news is no longer surprising.
In the same way that children of addictive parents are at a higher risk of developing an addiction themselves, children who are exposed to high levels of violence are also at a higher risk of engaging in aggressive responses to their environment. Research relating to aggression in video games prompted the issuance of ratings with recommended age levels for video games.
But, as proactive as governing bodies, parents, and guardians are, there is a bigger influence that now plays into the increasing levels of aggression in our adolescent populations: social and network media.
In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell describes the social effect when discrepant instances take on a life of their own and create what can become a social epidemic. This is the “tipping point”. It is the point when cheap rubber bracelets move from a novelty item to adorn the wrist of every athlete, teen, and person who believes in a cause, shares a philosophy, or knows someone suffering from something in almost the entire developed world.
Unfortunately, social trends are not necessarily harmless and can result in both internally directed and externally directed aggressive behaviors in our teen populations, (suicide and violence against others.)
Suicide Pacts and “Support Groups”
So what are the media outlets that are promoting violent behaviors among our youth and young adults? The parents of Suzy Gonzales will say social media via the Internet shares a responsibility for the problem. After Suzy’s suicide in 2003, a review of her social networking encounters showed her participation in a pro-suicide group.
The group not only advocates the rights of the individual to end his or her life, it provides directive support for those who want to commit suicide. In Suzy’’s case, members of the group encouraged her by directly supporting her decision to end her unhappiness with suggestions on how best to commit the act.
She was even given instructions on how to prepare and send time delayed emails personally notifying friends and family that she was dead.
Other Internet sites provide encouragement and promote suicide by allowing like minded individuals acceptable outlets for what otherwise could remain thought rather than behavior. By allowing these individuals a venue that accepts and encourages the exploration of taboo ideology, these members of society do not move in an opposing direction that encourages them to seek help in life.
Instead, suicide pacts bond strangers together in their final moments, decreasing the natural fears and eliminating the anxieties that are common stoppers to suicidal tendencies. These suicide sites promote an acceptance of the selfishness of suicide as an option, rather than steering suicidal teens toward an understanding of the devastation that suicide leaves behind for the families and friends of the dead.
It is not strictly behaviors turned inward that are promoted on the Internet through social media sites. No longer are the deranged fantasies of mass killers kept in notebooks under the mattress where they can remain protected from public criticism or stay hidden as private ideations, non-reflective of the deranged courage of the demented mind.
They are posted for the world to see on social networking sites. These public posts become a Scarlet Letter for the poster. Once made public, the fantasy of power gained through destructive ideation transforms from private musings into a worldly challenge, and then, ultimately, into a promise.
Each time the killer-to-be receives a response of disbelief, or worse, no response at all, regarding the ideation, the drive to preserve the ego and “save face” becomes stronger.
Each time the killer-to-be receives a response of disbelief, or worse, no response at all, regarding the ideation, the drive to preserve the ego and “save face” becomes stronger. The first post is indicative of a disease process that whether encouraged, discouraged, or ignored becomes a cancer to the psyche of the individual. It can not be denied.
It is easy to understand how an individual, particularly a teenager, can reach out through the Internet in order to seek like minded people to support what they know will be met, if voiced to those in the immediate environment, with concern from caring peers and family. However, this is not the only means by which the Internet is driving the weak to violence.
Cyber Bullying and Violence
Cyber bullying has become a social trend that brings persecution to some young people and does not stop in the school yard, or even at the doorstep, but appears in the laps of those who are targeted.
When a troubled teenager or young adult counts on their social networks to have a good time and find a connection, but is met instead with a social assault, the effects can be devastating. The means by which they can escape the isolation they may feel at school and find solace in the privacy of their own home is stolen. Cyber bullying brings the cruelty into their home.
They cannot hide from the loneliness and fear, and may, like 14 year old Eden Wormer, chose what they consider to be the only safehaven, death.
Or consider the web pages designed by Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. These pages began as a page about video games but morphed into strategic plans for massive destruction at their school. And naturally, when the gunfire erupts or the explosion occurs, the media is there immediately covering and spreading the news.
As Charlie Brooker highlights in his 2009 commentary, the media is doing exactly the wrong things to minimize the spread of mass violence. In his broadcast, he aims his criticism at journalists and broadcast mediums that become so warped in their drive to present inconsequential tidbits capitalizing on the sickness of the killer, that they will pixelate the majority of the screen just to show the killer’s face.
Brooker includes footage of a forensic psychologist who explicitly and repeatedly details the importance of minimizing factors in a newscast that will promulgate the copycat violence that follows such sordid and drawn out stories in the name of ratings.
But of course, that may be simply too much to ask. It may be up to us, the audience, as collective individuals, to show these purveyors of mass shooting grandiosity that we will not allow their poison to fill our homes. We don’t want to bring the faces of killers into our lives. We don’t want to “get into the mind” of the demented lunatic.
Collectively, we can take up a movement to drop the ratings. We can turn off the set and shut down the net, gather our kids, and play a nice long game of ‘Life’.