The Rise of (the Phrase) Mass Shooting

This is a brief placeholder post as I look for data on mass murder comparable to Grant Duwe’s for the 21st century.

One of Duwe’s points in his book on mass murder in the 20th century is that people often think of it as a relatively recent phenomenon, interest in which was piqued by the murder of 8 nurses in Chicago in 1966. But as we know from the data he presents, it wasn’t that mass murder didn’t exist before that; it was simply underreported and unrecognized.

An analysis published in FiveThirtyEight in January of 2016 suggests the same may be true of “mass shootings” today.

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In “The Phrase ‘Mass Shooting’ Belongs to the 21st Century,” Oliver Roeder highlights the extremely dramatic rise in use of the phrase “mass shooting” in printed news (and other media) since 1978.

Even if mass shootings have increase in that time period, they have not increased as dramatically as the media’s use of the phrase. Which suggests that the same distortions that lead people to overestimate crime in general, can lead them to overestimate this particular crime. The culture of fear and the media’s role in fostering it are real.

One reason the author gives for the ubiquity of the phrase is the same ambiguity I commented on before. It means all things to all people. But, of course, if the phrase can mean anything, it means nothing.


  1. I suspect there is a correlation between the more frequent use of that phrase and the rise of the 24 hour news cycle. As more major and regional news organizations went 24 hours then the phrase would be used more often. I suspect the rise of news outlets outside the MSM and traditional forms of news had something to do with all of that as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Some quotes:

    “If anything has increased with regard to mass murder, it is the public’s fear, anxiety, and widely held belief that the problem is getting worse. Unquestionably, this perception is linked to the style and pervasiveness of news-media coverage owing in large part to advances in technology.”

    – James Alan Fox, “Moving Beyond Newtown”

    “This sort of Columbine-era breaking news coverage of the latest mass public shooting has really distorted their idea of how many of these events there are. It seems like we’ve stopped the hyperbole and epidemic talk about serial killers and we’ve switched over to talk about mass killers. Now people think that can happen to them.”

    – Kenna Quinet, “The Phrase ‘Mass Shooting’ Belongs To The 21st Century”

    “When the population has been misled, intentionally or not, about the nature of the crimes in a society, and the rarity or commonality of those crimes, their decision making will be anything but rational. When the coverage is simply endless repetition of apparently meaningless tragedies, the numbing effect doubtless takes its toll on our population today.”

    – Clayton Cramer, “Ethical Problems of Mass Murder Coverage In The Mass Media”

    “Terrorism and rampage shootings are ways in which small numbers of individuals can manipulate the media. The only guaranteed way of becoming famous is kill a lot of innocent people. As long as media will give endless publicity to multiple murderers, they create a niche for people who want to make a difference for a political cause or their own ego.”

    – Steven Pinker (Vox)

    “People think the world’s getting worse, and we see that on the left and the right. That’s the perception. What’s actually happening is our information about what’s wrong in the world is getting better. A century ago, there would be a battle that wiped out the next village, you’d never even hear about it. Now there’s an incident halfway around the globe and we not only hear about it, we experience it.”

    – Raymond Kurzweil, “The world isn’t getting worse – our information is getting better”

    Liked by 3 people

  3. New terms, to clarify unknown situations, similar to prior to 9/11, few really understood terms such as Sharia, or Jihad, and in the context of trying to make something understood, media has slammed the term Mass Shooting, which possibly could include three or more gunshot victims. The thing I do notice, is the vocal strain of news people when reporting shootings. The cause a panic, and instill fear.
    Typical of this (lousy) 21st century, for the times, they truly are, a changin’.

    Liked by 3 people

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