This post was written by Associate Editor, Will Huber. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone.
Evidence is mounting that American mass shootings and active shooter events are not exclusively caused by a single factor like a diagnosed mental illness or access to firearms, but chiefly by a “media contagion effect” thought to permeate the minds of an increasingly susceptible demographic – white men. Media contagion is a tendency in some people to model or copy an activity described or illustrated in the entertainment or news media. Males were perpetrators of 154 out of 160 (96.2 %) mass shooting events between 2000 and 2016, and the majority of those 154 men were white and acting alone. A groundbreaking report posits that a “cultural shift from the historical precedents of a primarily patriarchal society” is causative of a newly-experienced social disenfranchisement for white males who have been socially and culturally dominant for centuries. In other words, the malevolent portion of white men who perceive social class dominance as their prerogative seek to reaffirm it—implicitly or explicitly—through mass murder-suicide. In addition, future perpetrators are nursed and reinforced by a constant cycle of media coverage. That is, the news media’s tacit guarantee of instantaneously catapulting the next mass shooter onto a national stage before a captive, national audience is inadvertently bestowing upon the shooter the appearance of social dominance through fame. A human evolutionary desire, as it affects men, for fame and a reclamation of social capital and social dominance (a.k.a. aggrieved entitlement) through the vehicle of mass murder-suicide is the driving factor in motivating an afflicted individual to act upon a murderous impulse.
Legislative or regulatory action limiting the nature of mass murder-suicide media coverage is clearly needed—beyond mere journalistic guidelines—to mitigate the harm caused by the phenomenon.
A Sociological Phenomenon
While social scientists are just beginning to study the media contagion effect’s impact on mass shootings, significant research has been done regarding the media contagion effect’s impact on suicide rates. Suicide trends, or “clusters,” in young adults show that a newspaper’s inclusion of the word “suicide” within the headline or first nine pages of an article “tips the scale” for some adolescents to act upon a suicidal impulse. To explain this, social scientists point to the social learning theory, which theorizes that most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling. As a result, authorities concur that it is strictly within our natural tendencies to mimic the behavior of others. Indeed, the media’s coverage of a celebrity suicide can have tragic consequences. In the wake of Robin Williams’s death by suicide, suicide rates spiked nearly ten percent, resulting in almost 2,000 additional suicides between August to December of 2014.
The aggrieved entitlement theory suggests, in the preponderance of cases, committing a mass shooting is a reclamation of social capital and dominance through violence. As evidence of this, consider why mass shooters kill themselves after the commission of the crime in nearly half of relevant cases. By committing suicide immediately after committing a mass shooting, a perpetrator can avoid the imminent social backlash and criminal proceedings that would shatter the socially dominant position he obtained during his commission of the murder. In addition, boys and men have a biological and inherently sexual inclination towards social dominance. Males that are biologically afflicted by a lack of dominant traits sometimes exhibit a “tough guise,” often manifesting in an obsession with guns and other deadly weapons, which disguise their vulnerabilities and characteristics that are not considered culturally masculine.
The Need for Regulation
The FCC could require media organizations covering a mass-murder incident to use a neutral, uniform pseudonym (a.k.a. perpetrator) in place of an active shooter’s name. Doing so could mitigate the frequency and severity of mass shooting events through social learning theory by limiting public obsession and promoting the protection of the perpetrator’s right to a fair trial before an impartial jury pursuant to the Sixth Amendment. Further, mere journalistic guidelines would prove insufficient to protect against media contagion because many media organizations do not abide by them. For example, in direct contradiction to the World Health Organization’s recommendation that the explicit description of a suicide method not be published in a headline, in the wake of Robin Williams’s death, the New York Times published an article with the headline “Robin Williams Died by Hanging, Official Says.”
The FCC indicates that, among other potential avenues, its rule-making authority is triggered when “[the] agency … itself identif[ies] a problem such as an industry behavior that adversely affects consumers.” Although the FCC has not yet identified the media contagion effect as a malicious “industry behavior” harming consumers, American psychiatric and behavioral professionals have. Social scientists agree that the correlation between publication detailing a suicide and the immediate uptick in public suicides implicitly warrants legislative intervention. Regarding the media contagion effect on suicide, sociologists Madelyn Gould, Patrick Jamieson, and Daniel Romer, suggest publishers not use the word “suicide” in headlines, and instead move it to the body of the relevant article. Further, and perhaps most interestingly, they suggest describing the deceased as “having died by suicide” instead of as “a suicide” or having “committed suicide.” Likewise, as it relates to mass murder-suicide, multi-media publications detailing the event and perpetrator’s life need to be within regulatory limitations. A perpetrator’s name should not be published, at least for a period of months after the relevant event, so as to dissuade public obsession over the commission of the crime.
However, the prospects of passing such a rule remain shadowy. Proponents of limiting what the media can publish are sure to run into a constitutional, first-amendment blockade. Notwithstanding the counterargument, coverage of mass shooting events “significantly increase viewership and increase advertising [revenue].” Media organizations and textualist proponents of the First Amendment’s freedom of the press would combat the regulation’s passing with shouts of the public’s right to know the full name of the shooter. Additionally, the National Rifle Association (NRA) may join media organizations in preventing the passing of such a rule because the NRA cashes in on the public’s fear of being innocently shot: gun sales spike dramatically in the wake of a major murder-suicide event, and the NRA receives funding from gun purchasers willing to donate at point-of-sale and from “Golden Ring of Freedom” donations from gun manufacturers. Because of this, it is arguably within the NRA’s peripheral interest that mass shootings continue to occur and continue to be intensely covered by the media.
On the other hand, regulation preventing media contagion from occurring may find bipartisan support, as it is a theory based on middle ground in a debate that is otherwise highly polarized and contentious. The Don’t Name Them campaign is an organization opposing the disclosure of a perpetrator’s name. The movement has received the support of criminologists and social scientists but has yet to find representation in the halls of Congress or the FCC.
 Jennifer Johnston, Ph.D., & Andrew Joy, BS, Mass Shootings and the Media Contagion Effect, PsycEXTRA Dataset (2016) at 2, 4, https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2016/08/media-contagion-effect.pdf (“[R]ampage shooters, who are almost all White men in early adulthood seek power and dominance that they perceive is their right, but perceive they are being denied, for various reasons, by society.”)
 Dr. Kaziba A. Mpaata, Lecture at Nkumba University, Aggressive Behaviour in Education Institutions: Theoretical Perspectives and Implications for School and University Managers in Uganda, (2008), http://ahero.uwc.ac.za/index.php/http://http://www.saica.co.za?module=cshe&action=downloadfile&fileid=36807145012175749519581.
 Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI], A study of active shooter incidents in the United States between 2000 and 2013, (2013), http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2014/september/fbi-releasesstudy-on-active-shooter-incidents/pdfs/a-study-of-active-shooterincidents-in-the-u.s.-between-2000-and-2013.
 Johnston, supra note 1, at 4.
 See Id. (citing David M. Buss, The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind is Designed to Kill, (2005), New York, NY: Penguin Books (“90% of men and a majority of women have had at least one vivid murder fantasy, although the degree to which each individual seriously considers acting on murderous impulses varies greatly.”))
 See Madelyn Gould, Patrick Jamieson & Daniel Romer, Media Contagion and Suicide Among the Young, 46 ABS 1269–1284 (2003).
 See Id.
 Id. (citing Albert Bandura, Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change., 84 Psychol. Rev 191–215 (1977)).
 David S. Fink, Julian Santaella-Tenorio & Katherine M. Keyes, Increase in suicides the months after the death of Robin Williams in the US, 13 Plos One (2018), https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0191405.
 See Johnston, supra note 1.
 See Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI], supra note 2.
 Johnston, supra note 1, at 4.
 A. J. Moore et al., Sexual conflict and the evolution of female mate choice and male social dominance, 268 Proc. Royal Soc. Lond 517–523 (March 7, 2001).
 Melissa Bell & Nichole Bayliss, The Tough Guise: Teaching Violent Masculinity as the Only Way to Be a Man, 72 Sex Roles 566–568 (2015).
 World Health Organization [WHO], Preventing Suicide: A Resource for Media Professionals, http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/resource_media.pdf (last visited Oct. 10, 2018).
 Fink, supra note 11 (citing Perlroth N., Robin Williams Died by Hanging, Official Says, N.Y. Times, August 12, 2014.)
 See Gould, supra note 7.
 See Johnston, supra note 1, at 4.
 See Gould, supra note 7, at 1279.
 Johnston, supra note 1, at 4.
 See Anuradha, Gayathri, Menu SLS |News & Media, Why Do Gun Sales In the US Spike After Mass Shootings?, Stanford Law School, https://law.stanford.edu/press/gun-sales-us-spike-mass-shootings/ (last visited Sep. 30, 2018).
 See Eugene Kiely, Do Assault Weapons Sales Pay NRA Salaries?, FactCheck.org (2013), https://www.factcheck.org/2013/01/do-assault-weapons-sales-pay-nra-salaries/ (last visited Sep. 30, 2018).