Study Says Media Coverage of School Shootings Both Good and Bad


A recently released study has attempted to suggest that mass killings and school shootings are “contagious,” and that one such event occurring increases the chances that another will happen within the following two weeks.

According to the study published in the journal PLOS ONE, school shootings and mass killings, or an event resulting in at least four deaths, have been spreading much like a disease, with 20% to 30% of these killings happening due to “infection.”  Researchers determined that the contagious period lasts about 13 days, writes Robert Gebelhoff for The Washington Post.

In order to develop their “contagion model,” researchers looked at records of school shootings and mass killings.  The findings show that while these events did not depend on location, researchers believed they instead relied partially on national media coverage.  The study determined that within the United States, mass shootings typically occur about every two weeks, while school shootings happen on average once a month, reports Ben Smart for CNN.

“What we believe may be happening is national news media attention is like a ‘vector’ that reaches people who are vulnerable,” said Sherry Towers, a research professor at Arizona State University and lead author of the study.

Towers went on to say that such people typically have regular access to weapons and are possibly mentally ill.  Once these people see an event due to national media coverage, the data suggests that they are more likely to commit a similar crime themselves.

However, when such coverage occurs on a local level, which typically happens with killings of three or fewer people, the results do not show such a contagious effect.

Katherine Newman, provost of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and co-author of “Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings,” agrees that national media coverage could influence others to copy their actions, although she goes on to suggest that there are positive results toward reporting on tragic events.  According to Newman, reporting encourages individuals to report suspicious people to authorities before any tragedies occur.

“While there’s a spike in shootings following an incident, there’s an even bigger spike in reported plots,” Newman said. “This is because people are vigilant and come forward with their suspicions and concerns.”

“If we want kids to come forward with information, we have to remind them these horrific crimes are happening,” Newman said. “It should be part of a regular school curriculum to remind kids these things are going on.”