Guns Don't Kill People, Social Media Does

I have something I want you to consider. After every mass shooting, people cry out for gun control. For weeks or months, gun control is all you hear and then it goes silent. There are many people who believe that the availability of weapons is why we have mass or school shootings. The thought is that if you take the guns away from everyone, these types of events would not happen. If we just pass a few more gun laws, we will save our children.

There comes a time when we need to find the core of the issues and not just slap band-aids on everything. Everything in our community has become fuel for our cancel culture; if someone does not like it, they want it gone for everyone, but that is a topic for another day. For the sake of this article, let us call the band-aid gun control and let us consider the core of the issue: social media. No doubt you already knew where I was going with this since the title states it clearly but let me make my point and offer you several references so that you can come to your own conclusion. First, I will highlight the growth of social media. Second, I will present data that will show social media links to depression and anxiety. Third, we will discuss the characteristics of people who commit these crimes. And finally, I will offer various approaches that will help mitigate these issues and explain why Congress is unable to address the problems by simply passing a bill.

Figure 1. Rapidly Acquired Smart Phones

 

Growth of Social Media

In an article from 2019,  The rise of social media - Our World in Data, Esteban Ortiz-Ospina, provides a great overview of how social media has changed in our culture from 2000 to our current state. After the message boards and chat channels of the 1990’s came the more visually appealing social media sites. One of the first ones on the scene was MySpace. In the early 2000’s, it was the next digital achievement. In the chart below, you will see that there are some large social media sites that have been around for over a decade such as Facebook, YouTube, and Reddit. Here in my family, the kids have grown to be fan favorites of TikTok. It is a platform that is literally exploding with users. TikTok gained on average about 20 million new users per month over this period. The data also shows rapid changes in the opposite direction. Once-dominant platforms have disappeared. In 2008, Hi5, MySpace and Friendster were close competitors to Facebook, yet by 2012 they had virtually no share of the market. The case of MySpace is remarkable considering that in 2006 it temporarily surpassed Google as the most visited website in the US. Most of the social media platforms that survived the last decade have shifted significantly in what they offer users. Twitter, for example, did not allow users to upload videos or images in the beginning. Since 2011 this is possible and today more than 50% of the content viewed on Twitter includes images and videos. The moral of this story is our younger generation is trading in their physical connections to those of digital connections. Many of the people they call “friends”, they have never met. Some of these relationships are healthy; some are not, but that, too, is a topic for another conversation.

 

Figure 2 - growth of social medial platforms

 

Social Media and Depression

The mental health of our children is statistically at an all-time low. Kids spend more time online and less engaging in real life, free play and autonomy. Childhood was unchanged for a millennium until the introduction of social media. In the last decade, usage of social media online has rocketed to an average of 8 hours a day. This is the exact goal of the developers of these social media platforms. They want to create an engaging world were everyone can visit. As users interact with their phones, the analytics are used by social media platforms to put more content in your face to keep you locked into your digital world. The number one reason a kid will say they go online: they are bored.

Young folks seem to have their award and social sensitivities peak much earlier than their ability to regulate those areas of sensitivities.  Throughout childhood, the brain experiences rapid maturation and the areas of the brain that are used to regulate the award and social sensitivities do not typically develop until someone is in their twenties [1].

Kids today do not have the same coping skills as previous generations. They either have a lack of desire or lack of ability to address the hard topics.  One of the greatest consequences of screen time addiction is the lack of social skills development.  Social media hinders our ability to have empathy and to interact with others and to see and understand social queue.  Even as our kids feel they are connecting with more and more people; they are becoming isolated in their own lives.  Enter the world of depression. [2]

Most kids will admit to feelings of anxiety and depression; what many of them have yet to grasp is the correlation these feelings and the time they spend in their own heads and not interacting with others. One noteworthy statistic is that the teen suicide rate from 2010 to 2017 increased 56% [5]. As shown in Figure 1, 2011 was the beginning of widespread adoption of social media. You will also notice that it matches the growth of social media growth shown in Figure 2.

Parents are the number one deterrent on how kids will use technology.

Social validation is now broken down into Likes and Followers. It is much cheaper, than getting your attention, to get children addicted in getting attention from other people. This effectively creates mass narcissism; the online status does cross over to their popularity as school.  They want to be famous; they want to be adored. Social media may offer this at times, but we all know how truly nasty it can be. It only can only go downhill for most of them. Dealing with the keyboard bullies on social media is tough for adults, let alone those who are using social media for validation and never receive it. Cyber bulling or social media exclusion can be quite subtle, or it can be shoved right in their face. But are these characteristics linked to mass shootings? 

 

Characteristics of People Conducting Mass Shootings

Let us know turn our focus on the common characteristics of people who conduct these types of shootings. In the world of public opinion (people who state a position with no supporting facts), it is widely believed that the top two causes is school bullying and poor gun control. I imagine if we were able to review the demographics behind the polled users, you would probably find a partisan divide (but that is only my opinion). At any rate, the results are shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3 - Voting Results

Let us make sure we are all using the same vocabulary. A school shooting is a type of mass mass shooting that deliberately targets an education institution such as a daycare center, primary school, high school, or university. In all cases, the targets are soft and offer little or no self-defense. School shootings have become increasingly common, in the United States. Recent school shootings (and other mass shootings) have contributed to a rise public concern over gun violence and socialization of children and young adults. School shooting statistics show a growing trend in this problem. However, this is not a new phenomenon. The Pontiac's Rebellion school massacre in 1764, is the first recorded case of school shooting in the US. Three men entered a schoolhouse in, Pennsylvania, shot and killed schoolmaster and ten children. During the nineteenth century at least 36 school shootings took place in the US. The worst of them took the lives of 5 people in Charles Town in West Virginia in 1898. The problem of school shootings in the US grew during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries:

  • 1900s: 12 school shootings, 11 deaths
  • 1910s: 17 school shootings, 12 deaths
  • 1920s: 9 school shootings, 5 deaths
  • 1930s: 6 school shootings, 6 deaths
  • 1940s: 6 school shootings, 4 deaths
  • 1950s: 16 school shootings, 12 deaths
  • 1960s: 16 school shootings, 39 deaths
  • 1970s: 20 school shootings, 26 deaths
  • 1980s: 23 school shootings, 28 deaths
  • 1990s: 40 school shootings, 76 deaths
  • 2000s: 49 school shootings, 91 deaths
  • 2010-2015: 100 school shootings, 101 deaths

 

I would like to mention that I have heard several arguments on the use of psychotropic drugs and mass shootings. I first heard the argument during a Joe Rogan interview with Libertarian candidate Larry Sharpe. In their discussion, they mentioned that most school shootings are public suicide or death by cop but suggest that the root of the problem may stem from a lack of community, lack of purpose, or loneliness. This was my "ah ha" moment and my initial thinking that the rise in the use of social media could be directly tied to the increase of deaths over the past 20 years.

 

The Depression Debate

This is basically stating that one of the notable reasons for mass shootings was that we simply needed happier people and that the explosion of depression and suicide are key factors. I thought this was an interesting point of research, so I looked for University provided research connecting the dots on depression and the use of psychotropic drugs to mass shootings. In an effort to research their statements, I found a CBS News reality check that consulted a number of criminal justice experts (James Fox, Professor of Criminology, NE University; Jeffrey Swanson, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University; Michael Rocque, Associate Professor of Sociology, Bates College) who stated there is no link between the use of Psychotropic drugs and mass killings. Fox specifically stated that “it is not true that the majority of mass shootings are linked to psychotropic drugs.” He continues, “Jealousy, money, revenge are typically the reasons for homicidal behaviors. With that being said, the National Institute of Mental Health admits a link to mass shootings and the use of psychiatric drugs.

National Institute of Mental Health Admits Violent Link to Psychiatric Drugs


These observations were made in a NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) report:
“And, of course, scripts linking guns and mental illness arise in the aftermath of many US mass shootings in no small part because of the psychiatric histories of the assailants. Reports suggest that up to 60% of perpetrators of mass shootings in the United States since 1970 displayed symptoms including acute paranoia, delusions, and depression before committing their crimes…. Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooter James Holmes ‘was seeing a psychiatrist specializing in schizophrenia’ before he opened fire in a crowded theater…Isla Vista, California, shooter Elliot Rodger suffered from Asperger’s disorder and took psychotropic medications” [9].  This event, by the way is the number one reason why I personally carry a gun everywhere I go. I was watching the same movie at the theater but was lucky enough to be in a different viewing of the movie. Like everyone else there that evening, we were left defenseless. 

Studies like this one do a pretty good job at directing the problem onto big pharma as they state that the real perpetrators of violent behavior are the psychiatrists peddling and the drug companies that continue to manufacture these drugs. But the number of lives lost to violent mass shootings since the year 2000 is over four hundred [10].

What about the more general statement that most school shootings are conducted as a method of revenge or suicide by cop? According to Dr. Peter Langman, who wrote an article in Psychology Today titled To Kill and To Die: Suicide and School Shooters, he explored the idea of school shooters always being suicidal. I tend to hate the word "always" in statements like this as there is always an exception but his overall conclusion was that “though the sample sizes are small, it is interesting that the highest percentage of non-suicidal shooters seems to be found among the psychopaths. Given their narcissism, it is not surprising that they would be less likely to take their own lives. Also, the psychotic and traumatized shooters tended to experience far more depression and anguish than the psychopathic shooters, which made them more suicidal [7].” So while Dr. Langman does discount that all shooters are suicidal, he does tend to group them as having personalities that display narcissism and experience much greater depths of depression over those that are believed to be suicide killers. But suicide still has a footprint as a characteristic. Business Insider previously released an article in 2018 that stated the US suicide rate has increased 30% since 2000.

Their position stated that the suicide rate in the US jumped 30% from 2000 to 2016, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They also stated that there was a rise among young girls from 10 to 14, but it went up for females in every age group and for all men under 75. Unfortunately, suicide is now the second leading cause of death for all Americans from ages 10 to 34 [11].

Depression and mental illness cannot be willed away, and it's not a character flaw. Remember that traumatic events that could lead to depression can happen to anyone, and more than 1 in 20 Americans suffer from depression on any given day. It is important to keep this in mind as discussions circle how Red Flag laws may remove the rights and liberties of people who do not have a history of violence.

But there are a few warning signs to keep an eye out for if someone is worried that someone close to them may be suicidal. These include: 

  • Threatening to hurt or kill him/herself
  • Looking for ways to complete suicide, like getting access to pills or a gun
  • Talking about death, dying, or suicide out loud or on social media
  • Rage and revenge-seeking
  • Being reckless or doing uncharacteristically risky things
  • Feeling trapped and withdrawing from social activities
  • Anxiety or trouble sleeping
  • Dramatic shifts in mood

 

Only a medical professional can diagnose someone as suicidal but asking the question "are you thinking about killing yourself?" and providing a safe space for someone to talk about their feelings without judgment or shame can be extremely helpful. A diagnosis shouldn't really come from a family member who is attempting to 

Mitigation Steps and Issues with Federal Laws

Whether or not you connect the same dots I do, we can agree that we do have a problem in our country;  we have micro-influencers who are given a platform to speak their mind; as they speak their mind, they gather support from others that are like-minded. The like-minded folks build a community. Communities are used to elevate thoughts and ideas. Some of the ideas that come from these communities are not always the safest for our children. The real difference we may have is how we choose to tackle social issues. Introducing new gun laws is unconstitutional; this is not debatable. The US Constitution specifically prohibits Congress from passing any laws that would infringe our right for self-preservation both at an individual and community levels. The use of "arms" is not just for muskets that were used in the early American wars. In 1755 Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was first published. It defined "arms" as "weapons of offence, or armour of defence." The meaning does not exude military weapons. Since the word "arms" means the same thing today as it did centuries ago, it is only logical the authors of the Second Amendment meant the same thing. Unlike the English Bill of Rights, there are no limitations placed on the right to keep and bear arms in the U.S. Constitution. Not that it would matter, since it is a natural right not a privilege granted to us by the government. But it removes this one final argument a gun control advocate might make to justify restrictions. The same people who advocated for the Second Amendment preferred an armed populace over a standing army. Just because you think a particular law sounds like common sense, any law that restricts the usage of arms removes your rights. Rights that will not be given back. Do you trust law makers to pass laws with your personal liberties in mind? I sure don't.

If you really want to have a safer world, focus on the damage caused by social media. If you are looking for recommendations on how to raise kids in a technical world, check out Parenting in a Tech World is an online community dedicated to supporting the first generation of parents raising kids in the digital age. Join this private Facebook Group to connect with parents and caregivers just like you.

The Childhood 2.0 site offers a Handbook for Raising Kids in a Digital Age for families, schools, and community organizations provides helpful information on how to handle common issues facing kids today, as well as how to help them thrive.

Find me on Twitter at @shannonbraync and let me know your thoughts on the topic. I'm always ready to have civil discussions with educated people.

References

[1] Stoddard, Joel MD MAS, Pediatric Mental Health, Children’s Hospital Colorado

[2] Winans, J. and Winans, K., 2021. Childhood 2.0 Movie. [online] Childhood 2.0 is an essential documentary that explores the unique challenges facing kids growing up in the digital age. Watch now to learn from industry-leading experts about everything from cyberbullying to online predators. Available at: <https://www.childhood2movie.com/> [Accessed 28 January 2021].

[3] U.S. Constitution. Art./Amend. II.

[4] Ortiz-Ospina, E., 2021. The rise of social media. [online] Our World in Data. Available at: <https://ourworldindata.org/rise-of-social-media> [Accessed 28 January 2021].

[5] US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, October 2019

[6] Ghosh, I., 2021. Charts: America’s Political Divide, 1994–2017. [online] Visual Capitalist. Available at: <https://www.visualcapitalist.com/charts-americas-political-divide-1994-2017/> [Accessed 28 January 2021].

[7] Ghosh, I., 2021. Charts: America’s Political Divide, 1994–2017. [online] Visual Capitalist. Available at: <https://www.visualcapitalist.com/charts-americas-political-divide-1994-2017/> [Accessed 28 January 2021].

[8] netivist.org. 2021. Reasons for school shootings: why are they so frequent?. [online] Available at: <https://netivist.org/debate/reasons-for-school-shootings> [Accessed 28 January 2021].

[9] NCBI. 2021. Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms [online] Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4318286/> [Accessed 28 January 2021].

[10] Time. 2021. 34 Years of Mass Shootings In One Chart. [online] Available at: <http://time.com/4368615/orlando-mass-shootings-chart/> [Accessed 28 January 2021].

[11] Business Insider. 2021. The US suicide rate has increased 30% since 2000, and tripled for young girls. Here's what we can do about it.. [online] Available at: <https://www.businessinsider.com/us-suicide-rate-increased-since-2000-2018-6> [Accessed 28 January 2021].

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