High-profile mass shootings can dominate the news, and critics have charged that wall-to-wall media coverage of these events can inspire more mass violence. In a new study published in Significance, five researchers led by criminologist James Alan Fox, principal of a mass shootings database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Fox' Northeastern University, tested that theory, The Trace reports. They considered 89 public mass shootings (incidents with four or more killed) between 2000 and 2018 that led to 694 fatalities and plotted them alongside references to mass violence in media outlets across the nation.
While the correlation between mass violence events and media discussion of them was clear, the researchers did not find any evidence that the media coverage itself led to more violence in the aftermath of an attack. “We find no evidence of contagion in mass shootings in terms of either self-excitation or cross-excitation from media coverage over a period of several weeks,” the authors write. While they don’t rule out the possibility of a “long-term cumulative effect” of media coverage on mass shootings, they argue that policymakers should avoid alleging a media-generated contagion effect. “Given their high-profile nature, mass public shootings tend to generate proposals for change on a variety of fronts,” the authors write. “Our findings suggest that, among the possible policy responses designed to limit the number or severity of such crime, restricting news coverage should not be paramount.”