by Chloe Colbaugh
What if I told you that one of the biggest factors in mass shootings, a rapid mental health decline in teens and adults, and environmental issues was staring us right in the face every day? The mainstream media and its counterpart, social media, is the root source of many of the biggest challenges we face as a society today.
These types of media provide a platform for hate speech constantly. While the argument of free speech is ever-present in today’s society, hate speech with the implication of violence should never be tolerated. Unfortunately, many websites allow this type of speech, which has led to an overflow of mass shootings across the globe.
More recently, The Christchurch shooting. The Christchurch shooting was a devastating attack on a New Zealand mosque in March, killing 51 people and injuring more. The killer’s manifesto was published online along with a video of the actions committed. So how could this be prevented? Acknowledging hate speech within media and making an effort to stop it. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has said the killer was searching for infamy. “He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety, And that is why you will never hear me mention his name.” He wanted to go down in history. The media provided a way to do so. The users on 8chan, behind a mask of anonymity gave him a rise to fame on the website hours before he committed his acts of terror. There was not a person on March 15th who hadn’t heard of the shooting. The people who hadn’t would learn days later when he published a letter from prison to 4chan. Had we not provided a platform for this speech, would the crimes have been as devastating? Had we as people not allowed hate speech on websites like 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit, could mass shootings such as the Christchurch shooting or El Paso shootings have been prevented?
Months after the Christchurch shooting, months after President Trump denied signing the Christchurch call to action, the informal pact to combat online extremism, the El Paso shooter would publish his manifesto to 8chan. Months after the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto was banned across all platforms, the El Paso shooter would open his own with, “I support the Christchurch shooter and his manifesto.” It was only until after the tragedy that 8chan would be shut down. But we should not ignore that the Christchurch shooter and the El Paso shooter were not the only ones to publish manifestos to the site. It was only after many tragedies that the website would be shut down. In just 2019 alone, 3 killers had published their manifestos to the website claiming to be “the darkest reaches of the internet”. Jim Watkins, the sites owner, had defended the site throughout each controversy. According to The Washington Post, after the Christchurch shooting, Watkins defended the website and it’s users. “Watkins has declined interview requests after each mass shooting linked to 8chan. Following the Christchurch massacre, he released a video defending the site as a refuge for free speech online and referring to the shooter as a criminal alien.” Watkins has argued the website as a refuge for ‘free speech’. Is it really ‘free speech’ if it’s followed with an act of violence? Freedom of speech is one thing, walking into a church and killing over 50 people is another. That right is not in the Constitution.
If mass shootings weren’t enough reason for you to think about what the media has caused, think about other aspects of humanity it’s affecting. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in an interview with the Times, “in the first week and a half after the attack, 8,000 people who saw it called mental health support lines here in New Zealand.” Considering New Zealand only houses about five million people, that number is staggering. When the media provides a platform for those who spread nothing but violence and hate, we allow people to not only suffer physically but mentally.
But it’s not just 4chan and 8chan that causes a rapid mental health decline. Popular apps and websites such as Instagram and Snapchat are a leading cause in the rise of mental health issues in teens, a study by the American Psychological Association found. Social and mainstream media provides not only a platform for hate, as previously established, but also raises mental health issues. It is not uncommon to find myself in another friend’s “sad girl hours :(“ private story. It is not uncommon to find myself scrolling through my Discord server finding another suicide attempt. It is not uncommon to find myself on Instagram and find another friend deleting the app for a month because of how much it has negatively affected their mental health. It is not uncommon to find myself reading my brothers emotional rants to his twitter timeline. It is not uncommon to find myself wondering why I still have these apps myself. Mental health is a serious issue, especially in 2019. The fact that we allow the media to negatively affect something so important to one’s psyche is frankly, sickening. The news barely covers the negative effects of social media, as well as what that can mean for teens. The mainstream media gives platform to hate speech and can cause a rapid mental health decline in teens and adults.
While the news lacks in discussion of mental health and negative effects of the mainstream media, big news channels often avoid the issue of climate change. While it may seem far fetched, the mainstream media provides a platform for climate change deniers as well as helps to perpetuate and further a corporatocracy in America. Similarly to capitalism, a corporatocracy is a society that is governed or controlled by corporations. While we aren’t exactly governed by corporations- our society is reliant on them. It’s often that these big brands supported and influenced by mainstream media are leading causes in the climate crisis. President Donald Trump and other members of the mainstream media perpetuate the corporatocracy we see today. The Union of Concerned Scientists has discovered over 70 attacks against science by the Trump administration and related parties, including: the censorship of scientific language, limiting scientific advisory panels, and suppressing scientific studies. On the Union, the Washington Post has said: “The group suspects ‘inappropriate corporate influence’ in rolling back fuel efficiency, chemical and methane standards, repealing the Clean Power Plan, suppressing known health risks, expanding oil and gas leasing and bailing out the coal industry, among others.” The mainstream media- which has been more influenced by President Donald Trump than any other US President, allows for the censorship of fact and scientific language in favor of money and corporations. This perpetuates the current climate crisis- and furthers the corporatocracy surrounding Americans today.
The news we watch, the apps we use, the posts we like- they’ve all become part of the mainstream and social media. The problem with the media isn’t just what it allows. It’s not just that it allows a platform for hate speech, it’s not just that it allows for negative effects on mental health, it’s not just that it perpetuates the climate crisis. The problem is also in the fact that we as people understand it allows this. We understand the media negatively affects humanity. The real problem is that we don’t do anything about it. We sit wondering why another mass shooter supports the manifesto of the Christchurch shooter without doing anything about it. So what can we do? What can we do to stop a threat that’s been following us around forever? We have to call those in the media out. We can’t allow for websites like 8chan to stay up for as long as 8chan did. We understand what the media allows. Which means we understand what we need to do to change it.
Harwell, Drew. “Three Mass Shootings This Year Began with a Hateful Screed on 8chan. Its Founder Calls It a Terrorist Refuge in Plain Sight.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 7 Aug. 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/08/04/three-mass-shootings-this-year-began-with-hateful-screed-chan-its-founder-calls-it-terrorist-refuge-plain-sight/.
Milbank, Dana. “Opinion | This Is What Happens When Corporations Run the Government.” Washingtonpost.com, The Washington Post, 15 Mar. 2019, https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/this-is-what-happens-when-corporations-run-the-government/2019/03/15/fb2c354e-4736-11e9-90f0-0ccfeec87a61_story.html?outputType=amp.
Peterson, Jillian, and James Densley. “How Social Media Sends Extremism into Overdrive.” CNN, Cable News Network, 23 Aug. 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/08/23/opinions/social-media-fuels-right-wing-extremism-opinion-peterson-densley/index.html.
Silwa, Jim. American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, 14 Mar. 2019, https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2019/03/mental-health-adults.
Warzel, Charlie. “The World Wants to Fight Online Hate. Why Doesn't President Trump?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 May 2019,