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Don't Say Their Name: Media Struggles With Reporting On Orlando Gunman

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Don't Say Their Name: Media Struggles With Reporting On Orlando Gunman

Media

Don't Say Their Name: Media Struggles With Reporting On Orlando Gunman

Don't Say Their Name: Media Struggles With Reporting On Orlando Gunman

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Does naming a mass killer provide him or her with notoriety? Does this notoriety in turn inspire other acts of violence? Zeynep Tufekci, who teaches technology and sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, thinks it does. NPR's Kelly McEvers talks with her about how the media should report on mass murders, as the industry grapples with how to report on the Orlando attacker.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

A day after the Orlando shooting, the FBI director, James Comey, said this in a news conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

JAMES COMEY: You will notice that I am not using the killer's name. And I will try not to do that. Part of what motivates sick people to do this kind of thing is some twisted notion of fame or glory, and I don't want to be part of that for the sake of the victims and their families and so that other twisted minds don't think that this is a path to fame and recognition.

MCEVERS: It's not just the FBI or other people in law enforcement. It's also survivors and family members of shooting victims who do not name killers. And this is a challenging idea for those of us who work in the news. We're supposed to give the facts, and a basic fact is the killer's name. In the case of the Orlando shooter, NPR has reported it, and we will say it again when it's appropriate.

I talked about this with Zeynep Tufekci. She teaches technology and sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and she says it's not that we shouldn't ever say the name.

ZEYNEP TUFEKCI: It's not naming it once or showing the picture once that's the problem. It's not like Voldemort. You can't ever say it. There's some magic to it. It's the looping - the endless looping of the face and the name and the selfies and manifestos of these killers. And we know from suicide contagion that media coverage of suicides can create copycats among young people.

In fact, that's why the Centers for Disease Control has very sensible guidelines on how suicide, especially young suicides, should be covered so as not to encourage the next troubled person to follow in that path which, in their distorted, troubled thinking at the moment, may seem attractive.

MCEVERS: You know, you talk about the suicide contagion. And as a profession, we reporters - we don't report on suicides by and large, or when we do, we do it in a very specific way. Could some sort of widespread decision like that work?

TUFEKCI: I think it absolutely would work. I'm not suggesting we somehow magically erase from the Internet. That's not going to happen. For an example, think of the ISIS beheading videos. When they first came out, the pictures and the video were shared widely. And there was a decision and a discussion to not share this. And I think media has kind of woken up to that. You don't really see ISIS beheadings splashed all over even mass media.

So I think we could do the same with these mass killers. I'm not saying never, ever mention their name. I'm not saying never, ever show their picture. What I'm saying is, let's develop sensible guidelines so that the coverage of such mass shootings is not done on the killer's own terms.

MCEVERS: In this world of atomized media, do you think having such guidelines is possible?

TUFEKCI: I do think it's possible because the fact that it will exist on some corner of the Internet is not what these people are seeking. What they wanted was for them to be on CNN. They wanted on NPR. They wanted on the front page of The New York Times. So if the major media develop an ethics that says, we'll cover the important parts of the story, but showing the selfie, like, every hour all the time - that doesn't add anything to the story. We've seen it. Let's move on.

And then we focus on the victims, and we focus on the fact that even if you're considering these thing, it's not too late to stop from going down that path. I think we can take that away from them without compromising the essentials of news coverage.

MCEVERS: That's Zeynep Tufekci. She is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina. Thank you very much.

TUFEKCI: Thank you for inviting me.

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