Let's not use mass shooters' names. September 2, 2019 9:50 AM   Subscribe

I think that we should avoid using the names of mass shooters when we talk about them. It gives them publicity, which they want. We also shouldn't link to their manifestos, or to sites making money off them.
posted by The corpse in the library to Etiquette/Policy at 9:50 AM (47 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

I do not recall too many instances on MetaFilter of this kind of naming (mind you I've not bothered to check), so it may have been a thing in the past. I feel like the media has become a lot better at keeping shooter names/manifestos out of their headlines.

If anything it's not so much the mainstream media but social media (twitter, reddit, 4chan) that tends to break this rule and turn these shooters and killers into celebrities. They do this by releasing unverified information, manifestos, livestreams, etc. It's very ugly and it's why I avoid that kind of news-gathering during the early stages of an active shooting sequence.
posted by Fizz at 10:34 AM on September 2 [5 favorites]


I don't recalling this happening often, so perhaps a flag with note about it when one does see it?
posted by terrapin at 10:38 AM on September 2


I flagged a recent naming and asked people not to do that, and it was suggested it should be a Meta discussion because there isn’t a site policy. So here we are.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:42 AM on September 2 [7 favorites]


I am in favor of this policy. I am also in favor of copious scorn whenever anyone does discuss a mass shooter's life or motivations, but this way seems easier to handle generally in the wake of grief that follows any tragedy like this.
posted by sciatrix at 11:05 AM on September 2 [4 favorites]


I don't know. I'm generally in favor of not naming, but I think we need sensitive and nuanced ways to discuss motivations, because the motivation is often white supremacy and/or toxic masculinity, and that needs to be addressed. It's actually really important that we address it, because there are very powerful people and institutions who want to pretend that white supremacy and toxic masculinity are not big problems in the US, and their chilling, terrifying alternative is that this is about "mental health." Unless we discuss some things about the perpetrators, it's hard to combat the mental health narrative, which is really dangerous to people with mental illness.

So basically, I think that we as a site but also as a society need to think carefully about how we discuss the perpetrators of mass shootings, but we do need to discuss them.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:14 AM on September 2 [40 favorites]


I think we should differentiate "talking about a mass shooter's motivations" and "talking about a shooter's life in a way that shifts the focus from the harms to the victims to whatever troubles the shooter may or may not have had in their life." There's limited value in talking about how a shooter had trouble making friends, or just got kicked out of his apartment, or had trouble holding down a job.

On the other hand, mass shootings aren't inexplicable cosmic forces. They're carried out by people with a variety of motivations, some of which are important to understand if we want to figure out what sort of danger we are in, individually and collectively. We've had a lot of white supremacist shooters in the last few years and a rise in white supremacist groups. We should be very interested in whether there are more shootings motivated by commitments to white supremacy now than say, ten years ago. We should be very interested in whether white supremacist mass shooters are lifting terminology from each other's manifestos. We should be very interested in whether that terminology appears elsewhere in the wider media ecosystem. And we should be interested in whether a shooter is motivated by misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc. instead or in combination. We should also be concerned about mass shooting contagion, though I don't think Metafilter has the kind of footprint that would meaningfully contribute to contagion risks. My understanding is that contagion risks only last about two weeks, so perhaps we could impose a two week moratorium on threads about shootings.

Also, while I know this isn't where the corpse in the library is coming from, I think it's also worth pointing out the enormous emphasis that pro-gun folks have been putting on not naming shooters in the wake of every shooting. It allows them to seem concerned and active in addressing gun violence without actually addressing it. In many ways, it is the new "thoughts and prayers." Again, I know that's not the motivation here, but it's important context for the discussion.
posted by This time is different. at 11:29 AM on September 2 [17 favorites]


IMHO, avoiding over-focus on the perpetrator is an important policy for the mass media but I think MeFi is small enough that the conversational hindrance of a no-name policy outweighs the minuscule amount of notoriety that would be avoided. Same goes for manifestos, etc. -- it's hard to confront how individual actors fit in with the broader threat if we can't dissect their stated motives. Hard agree on not linking directly to source material, though.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:31 AM on September 2 [16 favorites]


I think it's also worth pointing out the enormous emphasis that pro-gun folks have been putting on not naming shooters in the wake of every shooting. It allows them to seem concerned and active in addressing gun violence without actually addressing it. In many ways, the new "thoughts and prayers."
This is definitely something I've seen a lot of lately (not from here, of course), with the bonus of "If we never mention who it is or anything about their past, they aren't people who could've had political affiliation or beliefs to operate on. Effectively unknowable/implacable natural disasters, no more stoppable than a hurricane".

I get not wanting to grant notoriety, but I don't know that I like this becoming "Who shot people that time? White supremacist? Religious martyr? Domestic violence blowout? It's a mystery"
posted by CrystalDave at 11:36 AM on September 2 [11 favorites]


I think it's also worth pointing out the enormous emphasis that pro-gun folks have been putting on not naming shooters in the wake of every shooting. It allows them to seem concerned and active in addressing gun violence without actually addressing it.

They’re doing it because the more these assholes get named and shown on the news, the more obvious it becomes that they overwhelmingly belong to a particular demographic.
posted by Etrigan at 11:36 AM on September 2 [10 favorites]


While I definitely agree with not linking to manifestos and personal social-media pages and whatnot, it seems like 'sites making money off them' might benefit from some additional nuance--both the Post and the Times name shooters--and/or some talk about whether links to heavy.com, which seems more on the sensational side of reporting these kinds of events, are specifically to be avoided.
posted by box at 11:42 AM on September 2 [2 favorites]


I disagree with this idea completely.

Mass shootings are overwhelmingly right out of mainstream America, and using the names of shooters makes that unavoidable in ways that nothing else I can think of would.
posted by jamjam at 11:59 AM on September 2 [9 favorites]


As far as I can see, people are still talking about motivations and ideological connections, but calling them "The [Wherever] Shooter" on limited reference instead of using the name. I can do that.
posted by Miko at 12:19 PM on September 2 [11 favorites]


We have come a long, slow way from the days of the “But what if those mean, selfish cheerleaders had given [the Columbine shooters] a chaaance?” framing, for which I’m grateful. I notice the media and LEOs are generally stepping back from using the shooters’ names too much. We don’t see sneering mugshots wallpapering every medium like we used to. That should help deprive them of the notoriety they inevitably seek; whether it’s successfully discouraging copycats motivated by the same, I couldn’t begin to guess.

Cable news still does a “what we know about (white guy with a persecution complex)” but now the headline usually calls him The Anytown Shooter instead of Cody Wayne Whitedude. (Most eventually identify the weapons used and how they were obtained. A certain cable network talks about his mental health, or whether he played video games, instead.)

I find myself wondering if this is as helpful. Yes, by all means, let’s limit the circulation of the names and faces. But if each shooter becomes The Anytown Shooter or The Yourtown Killer, it begins to sound almost legendary — “Oh, I remember when The Self-Pitying Kid came through these parts!”

As long as the gun policy permits the shootings, as long as our popular culture sells white men’s righteous indignation back to them, we’re pretty much stuck discussing the guys. Seldom will there be any big surprises as the shooters are identified: “Oh, yeah, white male with a history of toxic misogyny, but his one friend said it was lighthearted toxic misogyny and he was misunderstood.” “Oh yeah, got the gun(s) legally, or from someone else who got it legally, or from someone who got it from someone who got it from someone who got it legally, but none of us ever thought his lust for a gun might mean he had an interest in using it for its intended purpose.”

We’ll keep blaming ourselves and the media for naming the guy, or nicknaming him, because we’ll never be allowed to blame guns and those who worship them. The tool these men use to get their notoriety is forever above reproach. Until we name the problem, we have to name something.
posted by armeowda at 12:36 PM on September 2 [22 favorites]


There has been a concerted push among lots of people to not use mass shooters names for a while now, and it doesn't seem (to me) to have any real effect on the frequency of mass shootings in the USA. I don't want to spend too much time trying to get inside the head of a mass shooter, but I really feel that they're not performing mass murder as a way to get people to know their names- I feel they're performing mass murders in order to perform mass murders. Plus, the accepted compromise of calling them by location/building/situation (eg, the "El Paso Walmart shooter", the Midland-Odessa Freeway Shooter") is basically giving a mass murderer a nickname, which seems to increase their fame and notoriety just as much as if everybody knew their names.

I think if they're in the news, that's fame/notoriety/recognition, even if their names aren't used. By the time a story is being discussed, the mass shooter's already achieved fame/notoriety/recognition.

On the other hand- not linking to manifestos? I agree with that- that seems like it would decrease the spread of their ideas. But by the time a mass murderer is stopped, they've already gotten fame and notoriety in the USA.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:41 PM on September 2 [12 favorites]


Where I work, our communications people use this resource about reporting on mass shootings and ask any journalists who contact us to read it (as well as the parallel one about reporting on suicide). We’ve found it useful, and friends of mine have started using it to guide what they put on social media after acts of mass violence.
posted by centrifugal at 1:45 PM on September 2 [14 favorites]


> While I definitely agree with not linking to manifestos and personal social-media pages and whatnot, it seems like 'sites making money off them' might benefit from some additional nuance--both the Post and the Times name shooters--and/or some talk about whether links to heavy.com, which seems more on the sensational side of reporting these kinds of events, are specifically to be avoided

Yes, thank you -- I should have been more clear.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:53 PM on September 2


I agree with the suggestion that people should avoid centering the discussion of mass shootings on the individual shooters. I am okay with suggesting that refusing to name the shooters is a good way to do that, and it's in general something I practice myself.

I am not okay with making it site policy to delete comments or posts that do so. Speaking as someone who lost classmates when my university was attacked by a gunman in 2007, I was sickened by the way the media focused on Cho's manifesto, and saddened by the way a subset of my community wanted to erase him from the discussion entirely. People process these events in different ways, and I think it's fine to share how others' speech affects you, but silencing others who may be working through their own feelings because the way they're processing them harms you is not a good solution.
posted by biogeo at 3:41 PM on September 2 [18 favorites]


So you're asking the mods to delete people's comments just because they use the killer's own name? And just to be clear, we're not talking about spreading crowd-sourced rumors or other original research, but just repeating a name that's already been printed in the news?

Deleting comments for just that seems pretty un-Metafilter, or at least too low a bar for deletion. The idea of not mentioning a killer's name is not a new idea, but it is also not something a majority of people believe, at least here in America. Maybe a majority of mefites believe in it, but our normal newspapers and tv shows don't care.

Basically what I'm saying is that this particular ritual/habit/custom is not so widely held that we should delete comments just because they do not observe the same convention. If someone is being a huge asshole about it, then delete their comments for being asshole-ish. But don't delete normal, un-antagonistic conversation just because some posters diverge from your personal style.
posted by ryanrs at 8:52 PM on September 2 [13 favorites]


ryanrs: So you're asking the mods to delete people's comments just because they use the killer's own name?

I don't think that is what's being asked for here, no.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:18 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]


I guess I came into this thread thinking "what do we lose by not naming these assholes?" and it sounds like the answer is that if we don't name the shooters, we lose the ability to identify them as white supremacists and/or men? And this is an overall benefit to society when compared to any other consequences of spreading said assholes name far and wide. It's counter-intuitive, but I suppose I could start throwing around the names of mass shooters if that'll help.
posted by some loser at 5:13 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]


So you're asking the mods to delete people's comments just because they use the killer's own name?

I don't think that is what's being asked for here, no.


The genesis of this MeTa was The corpse in the library saying "Do we want to name him, and link to a crappy site that’s making money off this? I think that post should be removed."
posted by Etrigan at 6:18 AM on September 3


> biogeo: I agree with the suggestion that people should avoid centering the discussion of mass shootings on the individual shooters.

I think this is the right approach. There are many ways in which we talk about mass shootings, and at some times, in some cases, naming the shooter and discussing their manifesto may be important or necessary. At other times and in other cases, it may be completely inappropriate. I think the best recommendation is to be thoughtful and to make a conscious effort to avoid giving the shooters any kind of individual notoriety or fame.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:32 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]


That is the comment that inspired this Meta, but this isn't a Meta about one particular comment. I'd like us to have a standard where we don't use mass shooter's names or do anything to help them publicize their agenda.

> it sounds like the answer is that if we don't name the shooters, we lose the ability to identify them as white supremacists and/or men

I can't tell if you're being sarcastic. We can say "The suspect who they arrested at the bank was a white man from Gotham City, who had been photographed at a white supremacist rally in July" without using his name. The idea is that they want to be famous, and that we don't want to help them with that.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:35 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]


To use a new and old example, I can't remember the name of the El Paso Wal-Mart shooter and I never bothered to learn the names of the Columbine High School shooters, but they've all still achieved fame.

I think the question "Will using mass shooters' names reduce their fame/notoriety/recognition?" is a question that major news orgs should definitely ask themselves, but I don't think the question works the same way on a small niche website like Metafilter.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:37 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]


The idea is that they want to be famous, and that we don't want to help them with that.

This isn't the case for all shooters. Some have no intelligible motives at all. Some don't desire fame in any recognizable sense of the term. Chillingly, some explicitly reject personal fame in service of their act radicalizing and inspiring others to carry out more shootings in the service of a shared ideology.

If "don't say their name" is just a ritual as ryanars says, I can understand the motivation even if I disagree with it. But as an imperative, it isn't responsive to shootings based on hated of oppressed groups.
posted by This time is different. at 9:34 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]


I get the idea, but the shooters are people, albeit deranged assholes, and we need to differentiate them. I don't think using their name in a news context gives them glory or much fame. I'm likely to refer to any violent jerk as "deranged/ delusional/ demented/ aberrant asshole/ jerk/ sociopath/ jerk/ fuckwad". I think they may enjoy fame, but mostly love the feeling of power from guns, shooting, violence.
posted by theora55 at 10:21 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Please read the link and studies about this...it isn't something that will prevent all shootings but many shooters are motivated by the fame, yes, from their name being known. I don't see a problem with keeping those names off MeFi.
posted by agregoli at 10:31 AM on September 3 [5 favorites]


I think personal choice to not use their names is great; policy, not so much.
posted by theora55 at 10:35 AM on September 3 [10 favorites]


Well, either way it won't stop mass shootings so not much point in discussing it or asking for this change as policy, really.
posted by agregoli at 10:41 AM on September 3


Both Ted Cruz and Andrew Yang (link to a Ted Cruz tweet) are on team no-name, for what that's worth.
posted by box at 1:46 PM on September 3


I do not think that this is a reasonable request and hope that it does not become site policy.
posted by great_radio at 4:12 PM on September 3 [4 favorites]


I'm just not sure how these shooters expect fame when there are so many of them there's no chance of remembering their names.

"White supremacist misogynist with history of domestic violence #35" would work if we actually had to discuss them individually, I guess?
posted by asperity at 7:32 PM on September 3 [3 favorites]


Limiting names for the general media, such as headlines, may be a good policy. Copycat crime seems to be a thing. But I can't imagine that many shooter-wannabes are coming to MiFi for inspiration or fame.
posted by sammyo at 7:35 PM on September 3 [3 favorites]


Don’t do it. It’s a waste of time, and nobody’s coming to this site for the news. All the content linked here comes from somewhere else, besides, so having such a policy would be defeated the instant someone clicks to read the original item.

There have been more than 365 mass shootings in the last 365 days. Could anyone name even five of the perpetrators without having to google? Besides that, the vast majority of mass shooters are not copycats, nor motivated by fame. They’re motivated by the urge to fucking kill people. Publishing their name after the fact isn’t going to do ANYTHING to prevent shootings. And even if it did, then that might be a smart policy for Fox News, whose audience is the hotbed of violent gun nuts, but not here, whose audience is several orders of magnitude smaller and which consists almost entirely of liberals who are loudly against gun violence.
posted by Autumnheart at 8:44 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


In addition, I’ve seen comment threads where people obliquely refer to You-Know-Who and What They Did, and there are subsequently dozens of posts where people try to figure out WTF anyone is talking about, followed by someone just saying it, or linking to an article that just says it. And then that comment gets deleted because Just Saying It Is Bad, and it’s all just such a bunch of nonsense.

At a time when the site is attempting to attract viewers and increase its audience, I don’t think censuring and diluting the discussion even further is a good idea at all. If the staff doesn’t want to elevate the fame of a mass shooter, then delete posts about them. Don’t create another headache for literally everyone by making it harder to discuss real and current events.
posted by Autumnheart at 8:57 PM on September 3 [6 favorites]


Just call them "some asshole". I don't want to know their names, and I agree with banning links to their manifestos and money raising sites.
posted by chelonia.mydas at 7:44 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


Besides that, the vast majority of mass shooters are not copycats, nor motivated by fame.

Cite, please.
posted by agregoli at 9:03 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


Sure. After you cite your source proving that mass shooters are copycats, motivated by fame, and particularly influenced by the discussion on MeFi.
posted by Autumnheart at 10:52 AM on September 4 [4 favorites]


I'm generally in favor of the original suggestion, but sadly I must ask: is there an exception if it's someone we know personally or are closely connected to?
posted by kevinbelt at 1:34 PM on September 4


I'm just not sure how these shooters expect fame when there are so many of them there's no chance of remembering their names.

That's exactly what I was thinking. I can remember a few names, but there are so many now that most of them just fade together. I can't even remember the names of the people who perpetrated some of the very worst shootings. I keep up with the news and my memory is at least average, but the names don't even sink in anymore.

On the overall question, I'm neutral. I understand the concern, and it's not a problem with me if we tend not to use names, but I don't really think any of these guys get famous anymore. There are too many of them.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:04 PM on September 4


> Sure. After you cite your source proving that mass shooters are copycats, motivated by fame, and particularly influenced by the discussion on MeFi.

Obviously we can't document that they're motivated specifically by the conversations we -- you and I, here, on this website -- have. But "Our research examined whether or not there was evidence that mass killings appear to inspire copycat killings. We found evidence that killings that receive national or international media attention do indeed inspire similar events a significant fraction of the time."

There are more links here to research and opinions, some of which leans one way and some the other. I'm convinced by the "don't name them" side. Reasonable people can disagree.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:27 PM on September 4 [4 favorites]


> I don't really think any of these guys get famous anymore

Some of that might be because more and more media organizations, politicians, and law enforcement agencies have policies against using their names more than is necessary.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:29 PM on September 4 [1 favorite]


"If my life insurance policy is valid please pay off my debts [...] donate the rest anonymously to a mental health foundation. Maybe research can prevent further tragedies of this type ."

-Charles Whitman.

Historically, one could argue the names do fade and take on another name, usually after the local where events took place.
"The Bath School Massacre" , St. Valentine's day Massacre", "University of Texas tower shooting", "Columbine".

So the Whitman quote serves little purpose but it does remind us of the inquiry into that tragedy was extensive, I guess the question is, what have we learned.
posted by clavdivs at 7:48 PM on September 4


Both "The vast majority of mass shooters are not copycats, nor motivated by fame" and "killings that receive national or international media attention do indeed inspire similar events a significant fraction of the time" can be true at the same time in the USA, as we have so many mass shootings (it's like one a day, right?) that most mass shootings do not receive national/international attention.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:49 PM on September 4 [2 favorites]


From the comments here, it seems to me like there generally is a consensus that refraining from naming mass shooters is a good thing for individuals to consider, but there's no consensus that it should be site policy to delete posts or comments that name shooters. I'd like to suggest that instead of deleting, we refer people to this thread, since The corpse in the library has provided several good links supporting the position of not naming shooters, which I think make a good case and may be helpful for convincing people to do likewise.
posted by biogeo at 9:34 PM on September 4 [6 favorites]


Yes, I think that would be best. I’d said that other comment should be deleted, because it shocked me — the link to that trashy site especially— but if other people disagree, I’m not going to fight for it.

Please think twice before naming mass shooters or doing anything else that will help their goals, but mods shouldn’t automatically delete those comments.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:34 AM on September 5 [6 favorites]


Herostratus
posted by klangklangston at 10:00 PM on September 7


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