Are Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and other social platforms to blame for the rise in mass shootings?

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Eight years later, when Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 individuals at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA, popular platforms such as MySpace (2003), Facebook (2004), and Twitter (2006) were in use (Hale, 2015). Social media has continued to advance rapidly since then and when the Parkland, Florida shooting took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018, news spread instantaneously on almost all digital platforms including everything from Snapchat and Instagram to Facebook Live and YouTube. With each shooting, it was important to take note of how the media portrayed the incident on digital platforms during this time. By analyzing these mass shootings from three different time periods, media coverage and activity from each can be compared and contrasted, ultimately showing the effects of social media advancement and how social media may have contributed to contagion.

The second factor was then examined through the analysis of a Mother Jones mass shooting archive. The dates and the frequency of shootings were examined in particular in order to reveal patterns of contagion. The year of 2011 was used as a “benchmark” for this method due to a Harvard study that showed the rate of mass shootings tripled after this date (Cohen, Azrael, and Miller, 2014). The year was also a landmark for social media, as Twitter doubled its number of users, Facebook reached 750 million users, and Instagram had its one-year anniversary (Lang, 2015). A clear increase in mass shootings after 2011 would suggest that social media may have an impact.

Findings & Discussion

This study found significant patterns between the spread of mass shooting news on social media platforms and the increase in these crimes. The analysis of three different historical mass shootings revealed there to be a difference in coverage due to the media environment in which the shootings occurred. Evidence from an archive then showed that shootings tripled in numbers around the same year that social media use skyrocketed.

Columbine

On April 20, 1999, 13 lives were taken in what many call the most tragic and recognized shooting in history (Mannino, 2012). This mass shooting is known as the Columbine High School Massacre in Littleton, Colorado. Columbine shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris went to their high school that day with the intent to kill, targeting minorities and athletes (Byock, 2009). After analyzing the media coverage that resulted from Columbine, one can recognize the role the specific media era played in terms of how the shooting was publicized in the news.