Living in a time of Twitter and mass murder in the U.S.
On nice days, YouTube employees would enjoy their lunch hour in the enclosed courtyard at the company headquarters in San Bruno, California. On April 3, that lunchtime routine was shattered: A woman entered the courtyard from the parking garage through an unlocked gate and opened fire with a 9 mm handgun. She wounded three YouTube employees – one remains hospitalized – before taking her own life. The shooting unfolded in real time on social media and cable news, captivating public attention. The incident and its aftermath illustrates two points: how media coverage of such shootings creates more vicarious than actual victims and how that coverage makes the United States appear to be more dangerous than it actually is.
The Big Picture
Only 25 percent of all mass public attacks in the United States are ideologically or politically motivated terrorism. Most attacks are motivated by workplace or personal grievances or mental health problems. However, no matter the motive, the planning cycle is similar for all these attacks, making it possible to see attack developing and to take steps to disrupt it.
A significant part of the answer lies in the technological changes that have revolutionized the way Americans receive news. In 1980, the internet was virtually unheard of, cable TV news was in its infancy, and most people received their news from newspapers and network television. In 1980, an incident like the one at YouTube would barely have registered a blip in the global news media. It would not have been spectacular enough to merit more than a few seconds on the nightly news, or a few short paragraphs buried inside the national newspapers. Furthermore, by the time the incident would have been reported by the media, it would have been long over, the attacker dead and the number of victims known.
Compare that 1980 news coverage with that of April 2018, when Twitter and other social media platforms delivered the news of the