Serial Killers and the Media Essay

Total Length: 1020 words ( 3 double-spaced pages)

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Serial Killers and the Media:


How the Media Affects the Investigation and Public Perception of Serial Killers

Serial killers are one of the most widely covered criminal types in the media, even though the majority of criminals do not fit this profile. Often the psychology and methods of serial killers are sensationalized in the media. Serial killers have also figured prominently as popular characters in film and cinema. This raises some problematic questions about the coverage of serial killers, however. First, is too much attention given to them, versus other, less cinematic crimes? Secondly, does the media attention fuel the desire within some potential perpetrators to commit crimes?



Of course, the idea that coverage of violent crimes can lead to the perpetuation of violence is not a new one: As noted by Conti (2015) “….what the scientific literature has found—almost universally—is that there is a very small but statistically significant correlation between consumption of violent media and raises in level of aggression” (par. 6). The fact that there is a link between observing violence and committing violence, no matter how small, raises alarms about covering graphic, violent incidents, including serial killer’s murder sprees. There are documented incidents of disturbed individuals replicating the actions of such killers, based on their obsessive reading of media reports (Conti 2015). Just as copycat suicides are an accepted phenomenon, so is the existence of copycat serial killers (Conti 2015).
While accurate coverage is important, it’s “also important to recognize that while mental illness plagues every society, the ways people express it are heavily influenced by the norms, heroes, anti-heroes, and spectacles of their own places and times” (Tufekci, 2015, par.5).



Defenders of broad-ranging media coverage of serial killers would counter such assertions, noting that someone is unlikely to kill solely based upon reading a media report and although these individuals might adopt some of the identifications of previous killers, that does not mean that the media reports actually drove them to commit the heinous actions (Conti In response to the idea that the “media should not be providing lurid details, posting step-by-step instructions, or publishing manifestos that gratify the killer's need for attention” they point out the difficulty of drawing the line about what coverage regarding murders is appropriate or not (Conti, 2015, par. 15). Without such coverage, the public may have an inaccurate perception of their safety.

For example, during the infamous Son of Sam killings, women who resembled the killer’s preferred victim profile were able to be particularly cautious to ward against being attacked (Winerman 2004). People may be more appropriately cautious in general, thanks to media coverage of these types of notorious crimes. On the other hand, a potent investigative tool is withholding critical evidence to ensure….....

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