Don’t Feed the Trolls

I have taken my time writing about the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, in part because I don’t think it’s a good idea to be panicked by rare and unusual events, particularly mass shootings, which are often intended precisely for the purpose of gaining publicity for the shooter’s poorly thought out pet cause. But the reaction in New Zealand has proven to be more significant, in some ways, than the attack itself.

On March 15, an Australian man who had lived in New Zealand for several years went on a shooting rampage, using a variety of rifles and shotguns to kill 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch.

I won’t mention his name and it is only with the greatest reluctance, because it is relevant to other things, that I mention the online manifesto he left behind. I don’t want to talk about these things because that is one of the few reasonable suggestions I have heard about how to discourage this kind of attack. Mass shooters—those who aren’t simply insane—do it because they think becoming famous as killers for a cause, however vague that cause is, will give meaning and value to their otherwise flailing and directionless lives. So it’s a good idea not to give them what they want.

I don’t want to oversell this point. Mass shootings are the product of a viciously distorted psychology and are in fact extremely rare, so it’s difficult to say exactly what, if anything, might discourage or prevent them. But I can at least get behind the idea that these guys don’t deserve to become famous, and they certainly don’t deserve any consideration for their crackpot ideas.

At any rate, the press invariably gives these shooters what they want. They do it because they are interested in using the shooter and his manifesto to promote some other cause of their own. In most cases, the press is interested in raising the shooter’s profile in order to promote gun control. In this case, they add the extra motive of trying to whip up a hysteria about a supposed wave of “white terror.”

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