Shootings, Suicide, and Social Media

America has traveled a long way from the Foreman basement.

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Eric Foreman’s basement. The hub of teenagers at a time when their most stressful moments included studying for a test and avoiding the wrath of Red. That 70’s Show stood as a shining example of the carefree lifestyle of teenagers in the 70’s.

This reality has quickly changed for the average American teenager. With the growth of social media, instant messaging, and the importance we place on likes and shares, teenagers today are forced to deal with some very harsh realities.

According to the Washington Post, since August 1st, 1966, there have been 155 shootings in which four or more people were killed, defining these events as mass shootings. 21 of these shootings have occurred at schools, including college campuses. 36 of these shootings occurred at stores, restaurants or bars.

These are events largely covered by the news, with networks using their social media platforms to unleash a torrent of information about these shootings to their followers. The social media machine goes to work reposting image and stories about the shooting or shooter.

With most social media, people don’t have to follow you to see what you say. The young people who have made social media a staple of their everyday life become bombarded by the information of yet another school shooting, another mass casualty event, and some of this information is being pushed into kids timelines without them even wanting to read about it.

The way in which the news media covers these events is an ever-changing landscape. In a Huffington Post article, writer Erin Schumaker states, “In the aftermath of mass shootings, news organizations weigh their responsibility to inform the public of newsworthy events against the possibility that the reporting will inspire future attacks.”

According to Jack Levin, the co-director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University, “In most of these crimes, the killer gets much more publicity than any of the victims. When the killer is featured, the killer often becomes a celebrity.” Essentially, placing the names and images of these killers at the front of a 24-hour news cycle for a week or longer becomes the ultimate goal of a shooter.

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ABC News

Yet, the media continues to report the faces, names, and histories of these mass shooters, trying to reason out why they committed these terrible acts. And before long, the internet is flooded with the reasoning behind the shooting, personal slights of the shooter, the defense by insanity plea, mental illness, any possible way to say that no one is responsible for this shooting. But someone is, and it starts with those telling the world what is happening.

Start with a well-covered trend regarding media coverage. The more these horrific crimes are reported on, the more the idea is planted in “at risk” individuals, people who may be more likely to commit these crimes. This begs the question, “Who are the at-risk people?”

But we all know who is at risk: the young people who spend hours a day on social media. The teenagers and the next generation are the ones being forced to deal with the harsh realities of the world as the adult’s shrug, saying, “We never had this when I was your age.” Such a response does nothing to assuage the fears of why we are here or how to go about changing the real issues at hand.

Unfortunately, school shootings aren’t the only tragedies impacting our youth that the media seems to overly emphasize. The glorification of suicide in the media creates more problems than it solves. According to a study done by Madelyn S. Gould, Ph.D. and Alison M. Lake, M.A.:

“evidence has accumulated to support the idea that suicidal behavior is “contagious” in that it can be transmitted, directly or indirectly, from one person to another. This evidence is derived from three bodies of research: studies of the impact of media reporting on suicide, studies of suicide clusters, and studies of impact on adolescents of exposure to a suicidal peer.”

This means, once an event like this impacts a community, it becomes real and therefore becomes a serious option for other young people.

When there are studies that can prove that emotional events like this leave an imprint on those directly affected, why do we continue to allow the voices speaking the loudest to flood social media with images claiming to inform the public at the expense of the mental health of young adults? Many of the school shootings have involved enrolled students, such as Majory Stoneman-Douglas, Virginia Tech, and of course Columbine, to name a few.

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These are students who have watched people go before them, creating a name and legacy for themselves which outlasts their life on earth. Infamy gives fame one way or another to the school shooter, providing ulterior motives to these acts of violence. As a society, we continue to allow the deaths of young people when we choose not to report on these events in a more reserved and respectful manner.

The news media, however, is not the only problem in this social media driven world. The way in which celebrities and artists have glorified things such as drug culture has allowed for the growth of the ideas that drugs and depression are cool, rather than encouraging adolescents to seek help.

The recent death of rapper/producer Mac Miller throws into stark contrast the issues this country faces on mental health and drug culture. What Mac Miller represented was the youth of America, not the Eric Foreman squeaky clean version that indulges in pot and the culturally accepted keg party, the version that suffers from drug addiction, depression, and a closet full of mental health issues that he never was quite able to overcome.

The opioid crisis is a well-documented issue in this country, and yet it continues to grow day by day. The idea that high school students are being told to say no to things like heroin, cocaine or worse, rather than just marijuana, shows that the culture being created in high school classrooms has shifted drastically in recent years. With the current epidemic, there needs to be a more assertive approach to combating opioid use, than was really necessary for marijuana consumption.

And much like the growth of this opioid crisis, suicide and mass shootings continue to grow year in and year out. Coming from a rural town that saw three suicide deaths in my senior year of high school, I can personally attest that this issue is only getting worse by the day.

But these issues are not labeled as a crisis. They have become a new norm in America, a norm that leads to a dark and depressing future for young people. We as Americans have allowed the American dream to go from a job and a happy life to drug addiction and early death. Each day more young people live to die, hoping that they find the acceptance and fame in death that they failed to find in life.

And all of this is being empowered by the speed of social media and its ability to convey messages to the masses with the click of a button. Responsibility has been thrown to the wind for a few more likes, a few more shares, a little more time in the limelight. The typical image of the double Styrofoam cups becoming more of a joke than a severe warning of the direction social media culture is heading.

The irony of Mac Miller’s passing lies in a comment he made to Complex two years prior:

“I’d rather be the corny white rapper than the drugged-out mess that can’t even get out of his house. Overdosing is just not cool……. There’s no legendary romance. You don’t go down in history because you overdosed. You just die.”

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Sound Link Magazine

This is a message of positivity for yet another young person dead from overdose and depression. Someone who was a voice for young people in this country, a living embodiment for so many people, dead because of things that continue to have a stranglehold over society. A society that continues to value having mental health issues over the importance of getting help and handling your personal issues.

The average life of a high school student has changed drastically since the days of the Foreman’s basement. From the moment a child enters grade school, until the moment they graduate college, the pressures they face from a violent and self-destructive society are everywhere.

The social media, the mass shootings, the drug culture, suicide, all of these things serving to bring young people down a dark hole that only spells doom for their bright futures. America today has fallen a long way from the wholesome family values of the Foreman household. It is now vital for Americans to look at the mirror and address the problems social media creates for difficult real-world situations.