The Framing of Mass Shootings

An important thing to consider when discussing competition in media and technology is how framing of events can be used to advance certain motives and agendas, effectively shifting the focus away from opposing or alternate standpoints on the same issue. Framing plays an important role in how the public perceives/understands a policy issue or situation. Guggenheim, Jang, Bae, and Neuman (2015) define ‘framing’ as highlighting certain aspects of a perceived reality for reasons including: promoting a particular narrative, moral evaluation, or treatment recommendation. The article that I chose to read this week is called “The Dynamics of Issue Frame Competition in Traditional and Social Media,” and it deals with the issue of framing in the context of mass shootings in the United States. The article discusses the relationship between traditional and social media and their influences on each other in terms of framing mass shootings.

Traditional media is often thought to set the agenda for the public (in terms of salient issues) and influence what frames they are exposed to (Guggenheim et al., 2015). Research has shown that some news outlets also set the agenda for others, and Guggenheim et al. (2015) suggest that this likely would extend to framing (meaning they look to each other to determine important aspects of an event).

Guggenheim et al. state that “frames compete for attention over time, both within and between social media and [traditional media]” (2015).  In relation to mass shootings, there is competition between three main frames that Guggenheim et al. (2015) reference – gun control, video games, and mental illness. Each of these frames are used in attempts to explain the causes of mass shootings. The article references previous literature that suggests that presidents try to shape frames so they are consistent with a specific narrative that coincides with the policy position that they favour (as cited in Guggenheim et al., 2015). This intuitively makes sense, as highlighting certain aspects of an event, and downplaying others allows for one to advance their own interests, while avoiding a discussion that may reveal that their position is not entirely favourable.

When I was reading this article I was thinking about how mass shootings have been framed in the media, especially in recent years. The specific study in this article focused on the timeline of April 2012-April 2014, during which two well-known mass shootings occurred: the Aurora, Colorado movie theatre mass shooting, and the Sandy Hook elementary school mass shooting. It is very telling to listen to how people on different sides of the gun control debate speak about mass shootings after they happen. It is not uncommon to hear Republican politicians say that it is wrong to look at this as a political issue, and to criticize Democrats for mentioning gun control in the wake of a mass shooting (see: https://www.rollcall.com/news/politics/democratic-republican-responses-parkland-school-shooting-vary-wildly). Bringing this back to the article, the different ways in which traditional and social media frame mass shootings has an effect on the public perception of them. The results of Guggenheim et al.’s study (2015) indicated that social media (specifically Twitter in this case) tends to reflect an emotional/sympathetic response to mass shootings, and that it is less clear that there was a focus on gun control. Conversely, traditional media tended to focus on the 5 W’s of journalism (who, what, where, when, why) and brought up issues of gun control (Guggenheim et al., 2015). Another thing to note is that the results of the study suggest a dynamic relationship between traditional and social media mass shooting framing, which challenges the commonly-held notion that traditional media sets the agenda (Guggenheim et al., 2015). Here, the results show that there is mutual influencing going on between traditional and social media.

@Micah Eaton talks about framing politics as an entertainment spectacle, claiming that “the media which we consume, even when we believe ourselves to be intelligent and unbiased consumers, constantly pressures us to see politics in a shallow, polarizing light, and as a celebrity event.” I think elements of this claim can also be applied in the context of mass shootings (please hear me out). While I would argue that the media does not frame mass shootings as shallow, or celebrity events, I do think that they often are framed to be especially polarizing. As I previously mentioned, there is a clear difference in the language that pro-gun vs anti-gun supporters use when discussing a mass shooting. Media outlets choose to give voice to different people and groups with different views on gun control, and other potential causal factors of mass shootings. This generates competition to frame the event in the most politically beneficial way possible.

Article: The Dynamics of Issue Frame Competition in Traditional and Social Media

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7 Comments

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful blog post! I think this topic is particularly relevant given the very recent mass terrorist shooting of 50 Muslims by a White Nationalist in New Zealand. I am curious to know what you think about the way it has been framed in the media: both traditional and social media? How do you think it’s been framed and how do you think this is related to policy positions?

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  2. This is a great topic to address and an interesting read. I remember reading a paper by David A. Frank on how American Presidents in particular managed mass-shooting eulogies by framing victims as martyrs for a pressing social issue in their time and then using them as an example to perpetuate a call to action after offering comfort.

    I wonder now if mental health is the vehicle that eulogists are capitalizing on to drive deaths into action.

    link to article for reference: http://gw2jh3xr2c.search.serialssolutions.com/?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info%3Aofi%2Fenc%3AUTF-8&rfr_id=info%3Asid%2Fsummon.serialssolutions.com&rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&rft.genre=article&rft.atitle=Facing+Moloch%3A+Barack+Obama%27s+National+Eulogies+and+Gun+Violence&rft.jtitle=Rhetoric+and+Public+Affairs&rft.au=Frank%2C+David+A&rft.date=2014&rft.issn=1534-5238&rft.eissn=1534-5238&rft.volume=17&rft.issue=4&rft.spage=653&rft.externalDocID=R05151021&paramdict=en-US

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  3. Thanks for bringing the subject of framing home by applying it to this specific issue! It’s interesting that you mention that video games are one of the subjects which frequently comes up in mass shooting discussions; I feel like that used to be true but it has become less of a subject over the last few years while gun control has shifted to the forefront. Would you agree?

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  4. @foroughpassyar4396 Hey, thanks for your comment and questions! As for the framing of this particular mass terrorist shooting, I can only speak to what I personally have read and seen in the media (rather than the entirety of how it has been framed). Different people, countries, politicians, groups etc. frame events/issues differently and I would need to know which particular source you would like me to speak on. I can give a couple examples of the framing that I’ve seen. For example, I’ve read that an Australian senator has tried to blame the Christchurch attack on Muslim immigration/ immigration policy (reprehensible & absurd) (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/15/australian-senator-fraser-anning-criticised-blaming-new-zealand-attack-on-muslim-immigration). I did some research and found that this senator is known as a far-right policymaker and has a history of making racist statements (according to this source: https://www.vox.com/2019/3/15/18267077/australian-senator-new-zealand-attack-muslims-immigrants). It would not surprise me if his attempt to blame immigration policy is his way of framing the issue in order to push his political agenda. Others frame the attack as an issue of gun laws/control. For example, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern brought up gun laws and made swift changes to gun regulations following the attack (https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/15/asia/new-zealand-gun-control-intl/index.html). As for social media, I don’t have much knowledge on the framing of the attack, so I don’t think I can give an opinion. I hope this made sense! Let me know if you had a particular person or source in mind where I could give my opinion on how they’ve framed this attack.

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  5. @linmeg Hey, I read the abstract of this article and it looks super interesting so I’ll check it out later, thanks for sharing! I have noticed the prevalence of mental health as a topic of discussion while addressing gun violence. Your thought about eulogists capitalizing on the widespread discussion of mental health is really interesting to me, but I was wondering if you could clarify that a bit? Specifically, the part about “driv[ing] deaths into action”? Did you mean action taken to improve accessibility to mental health services? Or action taken in attempts to reduce gun violence (such as gun control)? Or neither of those? Thanks again for your thoughts!

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  6. @micaheaton1 Hi! Thanks for your comment, I appreciate it. Yes, I would absolutely agree with you! I’m not up to date on the research on the relationship between video game use and mass shootings/gun violence, but regardless, I do think it’s less of a subject of discussion than it used to be. Speaking from my perspective, gun control/ gun rights (in the United States at least) seems to be the more dominant area of debate.

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