Hours before he went on a mass shooting rampage, Dayton gunman Connor Stephen Betts was excessively sifting through tweets and news about the shooting that just happened in El Paso.
He “liked” several tweets about El Paso shooting, and then went for his gun to make a carnage of his own.
Although he couldn’t have been more different from the El Paso shooter in terms of their political views and ideology, he went to do the same thing as the man he despised politically, the man he considered a “terrorist,” and a “white supremacist.”
Why was he then mimicking this man who was on a totally different side of a political spectrum?
Scientists recently suggested a contagion effect, similar to a “copycat” effect, might have been in play in mass shootings.
This effect suggests the occurrence of one mass shooting increases the likelihood of another mass shooting occurring in the near future, saying that behaviors can be “contagious” and spread across a population.
Contagion has been documented across a variety of other behaviors, including smoking cessation, and binge eating, and has been well researched in relation to suicide.
People imitate what others do all the time. We mimic others when we are choosing what to dress, we mirror other people’s gestures, vocal pitch tone, posture and other aspects of behavior.
Parents know how their kids can be annoying when they relentlessly begg for an iPhone or some other cool gadget.
“But all my friends have one,” this is child’s most common reasoning when begging for a trendy gadget of the day.
Mimicking is not only limited to behavior, some suggest that it extends to emotions.
In 1992, Hatfield, Cacioppo, and Rapson proposed that by observing another’s face, voice, posture, and instrumental behavior during conversation and social interaction, people unconsciously and automatically begin mimicking the emotions expressed by the person they are conversing with, and ultimately, may come to feel as the other person feels.
Mimicry and mirroring often occur subconsciously.
Mimicry itself is not bad, it fulfills an important social role in the sense that it functions as a social glue, but the problem arises when people imitate destructive behavior of others.
The question remains how to stop bad mimicry.
First thing that comes to mind is to remove the exposure to destructive behavior.
When talking about mass shooting this is easier said then done.
Tragedies get a lot of traction in the news.
One study compared perpetrators of seven mass killings during 2013–2017 with more than 600 celebrities over the same time period. Findings indicate that the mass killers received approximately $75 million in media coverage value, and that for extended periods following their attacks they received more coverage than professional athletes and only slightly less than television and film stars. In addition, during their attack months, some mass killers received more highly valued coverage than some of the most famous American celebrities, including Kim Kardashian, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, and Jennifer Aniston. Finally, most mass killers received more coverage from newspapers and broadcast/cable news than the public interest they generated through online searches and Twitter seems to warrant.
Unfortunately, this media attention constitutes free advertising for mass killers that may increase the likelihood of copycats, concluded the researchers.
Blogger BJ Campbell wrote an article in 2019 titled „I Just Made $100 off Some Dead Kids, and That’s the Problem“ saying that an article he wrote about guns got a lot of attention after a massacre in a Walmart in El Paso.
„The gun articles get all the traffic. If I were trying to make money from this endeavor, I would only write gun articles“, he stated adding: „Mass shooters and the media are a symbiotic meme. Each reinforces the other, and some ride this symbiosis to riches while others die“.
So, if the US really wants to prevent gun violence perhaps it should mimic Swiss approach to media regulation.
Switzerland is often mentioned in gun debate in the US, but rarely in context of media reporting regarding crime.
The National Rifle Association often points to Switzerland to argue that more rules on gun ownership aren’t necessary, saying that this European country has one of the lowest murder rates in the world while still having millions of privately owned guns and a few hunting weapons that don’t even require a permit.
But the NRA won’t tell you about Switzerland’s laws regarding the media.
Under Switzerland’s strict privacy laws, the media are barred from publishing the names of convicted criminals.
Take a sample case of aggravated bodily assault. On a night out a young man savagely beats up a passer-by in a random attack leaving the victim seriously injured. The case goes to trial, the attacker is convicted, his name is published and he goes to jail. Right? In most countries maybe, but not necessarily in Switzerland.
Under Swiss federal law, it is a crime to publish information based on leaked “secret official discussions.” While in US journalist are free to publish the names of arrestees, their photos and anything else related to their personal life, in Switzerland privacy is considered constitutional rights.
Even hardened criminals have the right to be anonymous.
Working with such restrictions Swiss journalist can hardly hype the story about a murder or any other violent act, meaning that Swiss citizens exposure to violence is automatically reduced, and with it the chance of copycats apearing in Switzerland.
The question remains does correlation imply causation.
Fact is that Switzerland has had only one mass shooting in the whole 21st century while in the US there were more mass shootings than days only in 2019.
These numbers alone are enough to spark the discussion should US adopt Swiss’s model in privacy laws to stop gun violence.
This will likely never happen, as US gun debate is fixed on gun regulations despite multiple scientific papers the role of the media in promoting gun violence.