"He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in parliament on Tuesday. "That is why you will never hear me mention his name."
The Christchurch killer had attacked two mosques, shot 50 people to death and injured almost as many. "He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless."
"And to others, I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety, but we, in New Zealand, will give him nothing – not even his name."
Ardern is on a good road. The kind of men who commit mass killings – and yes, most of them conform to a type – want something more than corpses, which, in nations careless about guns or stoked with gun love, are relatively easy to assemble.
They want attention. Copycat massacres sprout from that attention, aiming for even higher ratings, which they generally get.
This hideous arms race would not have sped up were it not for social media engines and unthinking mainstream media who amplify the killer’s name out of "just the facts, ma’am" traditionalism.
Ardern isn’t saying we shouldn’t know the killer’s name. She’s saying it doesn’t need to be endlessly repeated to such an extent that it becomes shorthand for the massacre. Why not refer to the "New Zealand mosque massacre" or the "Christchurch white supremacist attack?"
They provide a geographical reference and the motive but don’t give a pathetic, shabby, hateful toxic male the fame that will be a stepping stone for the next human scrap trying to climb to notoriety.
As for Zuckerberg’s Facebook (and its live-streaming tool), Google’s YouTube and Jack Dorsey’s Twitter claiming they tried to stop the video and words reappearing all over the world, no. The ability to shut down voices, images, journalism and information is what makes these malevolent corporations dangerous.
In this case, they could have used their evil powers for good. They didn’t because they had never planned for that. Doing the right thing isn’t profitable.
The Poynter Institute, a journalism advisory group in Florida, claims it would be bad journalism not to use the name, taking the advisory perfectly literally, as is the American way.
Yes, report the name, but don’t celebrate it by amplifying it. Tell readers every detail about the killer because it’s useful to identify the serpent eggs they have laid in other minds made of agar, the culture where bacteria grows in online petri dishes. Toxic masculinity unfolds in a multitude of ways. But don’t make the name the shorthand. And don’t call him a "shooter," which sounds like a "peashooter," a toy.
Traditional coverage of mass killers is intense and overwhelming for a short time, but ultimately so poor and timid. Slate.com just ran a headline glorifying the killer of 69 people on a Norwegian island in 2011, calling him a "cult" and an "icon."
Amal Clooney is an icon. Goop is a cult. Got that? Adolf Hitler is worshipped by vile people but he’s not an "icon," nor is there a Hitler "cult." These people are neo-Nazis. Call them that.
Equally, mass killers rarely get close scrutiny on mental health despite all the words published about them. The most impressive book so far has been Asne Seierstad’s One of Us, on the Norwegian killer.
It reports on the almost-criminal ineptitude of the national police force, as well as the killer’s mother and his intense relationship with her, his isolation and his psychiatric diagnosis, along with the years he spent alone online playing violent games.
One of Us was a great case study of the intersection between mental disability and online isolation. What is the answer? More mental-health hospitals? Limited internet access for some? After reading it, investigative journalists might wish to study the Sandy Hook killer, the South Carolina church killer, the Isla Vista incel hunting young blond women, the Virginia Tech gunman, and the alleged Toronto van killer.
Could we perhaps try harder to get inside their heads rather than placing a crown on them?
Heather Mallick is a columnist based in Toronto covering current affairs.