Police in Texas are no longer referring to the name of the man who killed 26 people at a church shooting. Not using Devin Patrick Kelley’s name, they say, will deter others from carrying out similar acts of violence.
“We do not want to glorify him and what he has done,” Texas Department of Public Safety regional director Freeman Martin said Monday.
It’s a move that the FBI and several academics say is a smart one. But most media outlets are still naming the shooter involved in Texas’ largest mass shooting.
Here’s a deeper look at what why some say using a shooter’s name encourages others.
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What does research say?
A 2017 academic paper published in American Behavorial Studies highlights the risks of naming shooters.
The report, titled Don’t Name Them, Don’t Show Them, Report Everything Else, says many mass shooters in the past have killed for the media attention it brings.
“However, if the media changes how they cover mass shooters, they may be able to deny many offenders the attention they seek and deter some future perpetrators from attacking,” it reads.
The paper offers the case of the Sandy Hook school shooting‘s assailant, who posted online about a competition between mass shooters for who would kill more, and therefore get the most fame.
The paper’s argument is something that Zeynep Tufekci, a professor at the University of North Carolina, has also been vocal about.
Tufecki explains media outlets are already cautious in what they report about suicides for fear of inspiring copycats and should do the same for mass shooters.
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Journalists cite duty to report facts
While the American Behavorial Studies paper urges media to also avoid naming shooters, journalists say it’s their duty to report the facts.
Most media outlets in the U.S. have continued to name Kelley, and regularly name others who carry out acts of violence.
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Jeffrey Dvorkin, the director of the University of Toronto’s journalism program, says names and photos of shooters will be available online regardless of whether media outlets use them.
“Once the story is out there, it’s all on the internet anyway,” Dvorkin told Global News. “As journalists, we have an obligation to give people the information they need, and to a certain extent, the information they want.”
Ron Waksman, vice president of digital for Global News and Corus Radio, noted that reporting a shooter’s name is an important aspect of news coverage.
“Reporting the name of someone accused of a heinous act is very much in the public interest because it adds important context to news coverage,” Waksman said.
“Doing so allows journalists to extract and surface additional background information that leads to a better understanding of events,” he added.
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“There are many examples where naming a perpetrator resulted in other victims coming forward, demands for government accountability and even societal change. Reporting the name is also done in the interest of accuracy so we can prevent misidentification or misinformation.”
How families of victims feel
But not naming shooters, and giving them less attention in media coverage overall, also has to do with being respectful of the victims’ families.
No Notoriety is an advocacy group that calls on the media to avoid coverage on shooters. The group was first created by Caren and Tom Teves, who lost their son, Alex, in a 2012 mass shooting at a movie theatre in Colorado.
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In an interview with Wired last month, the father explained that every newspaper’s front page showed the face of his son’s killer for days.
“These things just aggravate you, obviously,” he said. “There were no pictures of the heroes, and we just said, “This is enough.'”
Now, the group urges media organizations: “Focus on victims and heroes — not their killers!”
— With files from the Associated Press