COMMENTARY: Stop making serial killers famous

Identifying shooters isn’t informing the public, it’s making serial killers famous (Graphic by Alex Dascalu/AQ)

Social media allows anyone to become famous, including serial killers.

But journalists shouldn’t help them. We should have the responsibility to limit or at least reduce the amount of coverage killers get. It might discourage more killers from following in the footsteps of their predecessors or even provide them with a lesser appeal to the act itself.

Last March, the Christchurch shooter wore a body camera and used Facebook to live-stream the murders of more than 50 New Zealanders. During the live-stream, he shouted, “Subscribe to PewDiePie!”

While the shooter had no affiliation with the channel, PewDiePie had more than 89 million subscribers at the time and used the Subscribe to PewDiePie movement to maintain his spot as the number one YouTuber. By latching onto the movement, the shooter gained more media attention, more paparazzi.

Media outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post ran stories about how the Christchurch shooter became part of Kjellberg’s movement. Kjellberg condemned the shooter and ended the Subscribe to PewDiePie movement.

Part of a journalist’s job is to supply readers with as much information as possible. But if it means spreading the face and name of a mass shooter? No thank you. Providing this information glorifies the killer’s crimes and inspires others to follow in their footsteps. 

The Parkland shooter recorded three videos before the Feb. 14, 2018 attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. He bragged about how many students he wanted to kill and the fame he’d receive afterward.

The media gave him what he wanted.

The New York Times and other news organizations who published the shooter’s story and identity on the front page fulfilled the killer’s dream of being famous. We shouldn’t give killers what they want.

Still, there’s been some progress since these shootings.

On Aug. 31, a gunman murdered seven and injured 25 during a shooting spree in Odessa and Midland, Texas. The gunman died in a shootout with police. Odessa’s Police Chief Michael Gerke refused to name the shooter during a press conference.

Journalists can still present accurate stories without identifying the killer. Some news organizations and journalists, like the Philip DeFranco Show and CNN’s Anderson Cooper, have already stopped naming killers while covering these stories. They can still tell what happened, the number of victims, and the aftermath without giving the killer the limelight. 

The only reason a killer’s name and photo should be on the front-page is if they’re still a threat. If there’s an active shooter and the police know their identity, the public has the right to know who the gunman is so they can keep themselves safe. Any other time, it’s giving them what they want.

We love and fear serial killers. We condemn these killers for their crimes, yet glorify them with countless movies, documentaries, TV series and novels. Some killers, like Jack the Ripper or Charles Manson, have their own murder tours where fans can visit the scene of the crime. Modern serial killers crave this type of fame, but we shouldn’t give it to them.

Dead or rotting behind bars, serial killers shouldn’t have the chance to become the next Ted Bundy or Jack the Ripper. The moment their name and face appears in the news, they’ve won. So, let’s take away their voice and make sure that they stay faceless, nameless and nobodies.