There’s a reason the media rarely reports on suicides. Sociologists long ago discovered that suicide is contagious — and media coverage helps its spread. There are guidelines endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Mental Health, the Office of the Surgeon General, and others warning against “inadvertently romanticizing suicide or idealizing those who take their own lives by portraying suicide as a heroic or romantic act.” They also caution media outlets against credulously relaying the testimony of the deceased. “The cause of an individual suicide is invariably more complicated than a recent painful event such as the break-up of a relationship or the loss of a job,” they write.
But the national media reports ceaselessly on mass murders. Cameras are often there to cover the actual shooting, and they don’t leave until weeks or months after the final press conference. Magazines profile the killers, lingering on their fashion affectations or their love of death metal or their disturbed art or the maddening realization that they didn’t seem like killers at all. These are all natural attempts to understand a tragedy. But the end up glorifying the murderer — and possibly creating copycats.
Sociologists believe that mass murder is contagious, too. "The tornado of media coverage that swirls around each such mass killing," wrote Zeynep Tufekci at The Atlantic, ”and the acute interest in the identity and characteristics of the shooter — as well as the detailed and sensationalist reporting of the killer’s steps just before and during the shootings — may be creating a vicious cycle of copycat effects similar to those found in teen and other suicides.” They also may be fulfilling the shooter’s hopes and dreams.