Keep calm, but don’t just carry on: how to deal with China’s mass surveillance of thousands of Australians



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Bruce Baer Arnold, University of Canberra

National security is like sausage-making. We might enjoy the tasty product, but want to look away from the manufacturing.

Recent news that Chinese company Zhenhua Data is profiling more than 35,000 Australians isn’t a surprise to people with an interest in privacy, security and social networks. We need to think critically about this, knowing we can do something to prevent it from happening again.

Reports indicate Zhenhua provides services to the Chinese government. It may also provide services to businesses in China and overseas.

The company operates under Chinese law and doesn’t appear to have a presence in Australia. That means we can’t shut it down or penalise it for a breach of our law. Also, Beijing is unlikely to respond to expressions of outrage from Australia or condemnation by our government – especially amid recent sabre-rattling.




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Zhenhua is reported to have data on more than 35,000 Australians – a list saturated by political leaders and prominent figures. Names, birthdays, addresses, marital status, photographs, political associations, relatives and social media account details are among the information extracted.

It seems Zhenhua has data on a wide range of Australians, including public figures such as Victorian supreme court judge Anthony Cavanough, Australia’s former ambassador to China Geoff Raby, former NSW premier and federal foreign affairs minister Bob Carr, tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes and singer Natalie Imbruglia.

It’s not clear how individuals are being targeted. The profiling might be systematic. It might instead be conducted on the basis of a specific industry, academic discipline, public prominence or perceived political influence.

It’s unlikely Zhenhua profiles random members of the public. That means there’s no reason for average citizens without a China connection to be worried.

Still, details around the intelligence gathering elude us, so best practise for the public is to maintain as much online privacy as possible, whenever possible.

Overall, we don’t know much about Zhenhua’s goals. And what we do know came from a leak to a US academic who sensibly fled China in 2018, fearing for his safety.

Pervasive surveillance is the norm

Pervasive surveillance is now a standard feature of all major governments, which often rely on surveillance-for-profit companies. Governments in the West buy services from big data analytic companies such as Palantir.

Australia’s government gathers information outside our borders, too. Take the bugging of the Timor-Leste government, a supposed friend rather than enemy.

How sophisticated is the plot?

Revelations about Zhenhua have referred to the use of artificial intelligence and the “mosaic” method of intelligence gathering. But this is probably less exciting than it sounds.

Reports indicate much of the data was extracted from online open sources. Access to much of this would have simply involved using algorithms to aggregate targets’ names, dates, qualifications and work history data found on publicly available sites.

The algorithms then help put the individual pieces of the “mosaic” together and fill in the holes on the basis of each individual’s relationship with others, such as their as peers, colleagues or partners.

Some of the data for the mosaic may come from hacking or be gathered directly by the profiler. According to the ABC, some data that landed in Zhenhua’s lap was taken from the dark web.

One seller might have spent years copying data from university networks. For example, last year the Australian National University acknowledged major personal data breaches had taken place, potentially extending back 19 years.

This year there was also the unauthorised (and avoidable) access by cybercriminals to NSW government data on 200,000 people.

While it may be confronting to know a foreign state is compiling information on Australian citizens, it should be comforting to learn sharing this information can be avoided – if you’re careful.

What’s going on in the black box?

One big question is what Zhenhua’s customers in China’s political and business spheres might do with the data they’ve compiled on Australian citizens. Frankly, we don’t know. National security is often a black box and we are unlikely ever to get verifiable details.

Apart from distaste at being profiled, we might say being watched is no big deal, especially given many of those on the list are already public figures. Simply having an AI-assisted “Who’s Who” of prominent Australians isn’t necessarily frightening.

However, it is of concern if the information collected is being used for disinformation, such as through any means intended to erode trust in political processes, or subvert elections.

For instance, a report published in June by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute detailed how Chinese-speaking people in Australia were being targeted by a “persistent, large-scale influence campaign linked to Chinese state actors”.

Illustration of surveillance camera with Chinese flag draped over.
In June, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced China was supposedly behind a major state-based attack against several of Australia’s sectors, including all levels of government.
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Deep fake videos are another form of subversion of increasing concern to governments and academics, particularly in the US.




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Can we fix this?

We can’t make Zhenhua and its competitors disappear. Governments think they are too useful.

Making everything visible to state surveillance is now the ambition of many law enforcement bodies and all intelligence agencies. It’s akin to Google and its competitors wanting to know (and sell) everything about us, without regard for privacy as a human right.

We can, however, build resilience.

One way is to require government agencies and businesses to safeguard their databases. That hasn’t been the case with the NSW government, Commonwealth governments, Facebook, dating services and major hospitals.

In Australia, we need to adopt recommendations by law reform inquiries and establish a national right to privacy. The associated privacy tort would incentivise data custodians and also encourage the public to avoid oversharing online.

In doing so, we might be better placed to condemn both China and other nations participating in unethical intelligence gathering, while properly acknowledging our own wrongdoings in Timor-Leste.The Conversation

Bruce Baer Arnold, Assistant Professor, School of Law, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The positives and negatives of mass testing for coronavirus



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Jennifer MacLachlan, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and Benjamin Cowie, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

Many jurisdictions around the world are now testing people without symptoms as part of efforts to manage COVID-19. In Victoria, asymptomatic health-care workers have been part of the recent “testing blitz”.

We tend to take for granted that the results of medical tests are accurate – but no test is perfect and all carry a risk of harm of some kind. Although there has been a drive to increase testing, we must recognise this is also true for coronavirus.




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All tests have limitations

Among the shortfalls of diagnostic testing is the possibility of false negatives (failing to detect a condition when it’s present) and false positives (detecting a condition when it’s absent).

It’s easy to see why false negatives can be a problem – we lose the benefits of early intervention.

But false positives can also cause harm, including unnecessary treatment. This is why positive screening tests are often followed up with a second, different test to confirm a diagnosis.

Examples include further imaging and possibly biopsy following a positive mammogram for breast cancer, or colonoscopy following positive screening for colon cancer.




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Why do we get false positives?

False positives can occur for many reasons, including normal human and system errors (for example mislabelling, data entry errors or sample mishandling).

Sometimes false positive test results could be due to a cross-reaction with something else in the sample, such as a different virus.

Data entry errors can lead to false positives or false negatives.
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For COVID-19, the only routinely available option to confirm a positive result is to retest using the same method. This can address the false positives generated through sample contamination or human error.

Even so, some authorities recommend isolation for any person who returns a positive test, regardless of subsequent results.

Testing more widely could mean more false positives

The proportion of false positives among all positive results depends not just on the characteristics of the test, but on how common the condition being tested for is among those being tested.

This is because even a highly specific test – one that generates hardly any false positives – may still generate more false positive results than there are actual cases of the condition in those being tested (true positives).

Let’s work through an example.

Say we have a very good test which is 99.9% specific – that is, only one in 1,000 tests give a false positive. And imagine we’re testing 20,000 people for condition X. Condition X has a very low prevalence – we estimate it affects 0.01%, or one in 10,000 people in the population.

At this level we could expect two people in our sample to have condition X, so we might get two true positive results. But we would also expect around 20 false positive results, given the error rate of our test.

So the proportion of people testing positive who actually have condition X would be only two out of 22, or 9.1%.

This is called the positive predictive value of a test. The lower the prevalence of a condition in the population, the lower the positive predictive value.

What about COVID-19?

In Australia, control measures have been very successful in reducing the number of people currently infected with COVID-19. We estimate the likelihood of a positive test to be very low right now (although of course this may change as restrictions ease).

The current reported number of active COVID-19 cases in Australia is about 600. And even if we’ve only diagnosed one in every ten people currently infected, this still represents less than 0.03% of the population.




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While we’re still establishing the specificity of tests for SARS-CoV-2 (the coronavirus that causes COVID-19), early evidence suggests an estimate of 99% or greater is reasonable.

However, following the same calculations as in the example above, at a prevalence of 0.03%, even a test with 99.9% specificity would mean only 30% of people who test positive actually have the condition. This means more than two-thirds of positive results would actually be false positives if we were testing asymptomatic people with no increased risk.

This is why testing criteria are often applied. If testing is offered only to those with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, the condition is almost certainly more common in those being tested than in the general (asymptomatic) population, and therefore the rate of true positives is going to be higher.

But if we start testing more broadly, the likelihood of false positives becomes a greater concern.

Why are false positives a problem?

Clearly we need tests to be as sensitive as possible – it’s easy to see why a false negative COVID-19 result could be a serious issue. But it’s important to recognise a false positive result can also cause significant problems for an individual and the community.

Consider, for example, the impact of asymptomatic health worker screening if a false positive test result leads to isolation of the person falsely diagnosed, and quarantining of their clinical co-workers identified (incorrectly) as close contacts of a case of COVID-19.

Further, a person who has had a false positive result may feel they are not at risk of future infection as they believe they are immune, leading to potential consequences for the individual and their contacts.

Even from an epidemiologicial perspective, a high proportion of false positives could distort our understanding of the spread of COVID-19 in the community.




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More testing will give us a better picture of the coronavirus spread and its slowdown


Testing for COVID-19 in Australia is highly regulated and uses the best possible tests and highly qualified staff.

But asymptomatic screening when the prevalence of a condition is as low as that of COVID-19 in Australia currently must carefully weigh the benefits of such testing against the potential harms.The Conversation

Jennifer MacLachlan, Epidemiologist, WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and Benjamin Cowie, Director, WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What Parkland’s experience tells us about the limits of a ‘security’ response to Christchurch


Amanda Tattersall, University of Sydney

In the days before the mass shootings in Christchurch I was visiting Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed in a school shooting on Valentine’s Day 2018. I was recording a story about how those survivors and their allies built a global movement against gun violence. I met students, teachers and supporters.

These American students knew all about Australia’s gun laws. “How did you get such strong laws?” they would ask. And I would tell them about the Port Arthur massacre and how our conservative prime minister acted. “We haven’t had a gun massacre since,” I proclaimed. Days later, I felt shame at my hubris – an Australian has been charged with the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.




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Parkland shooting: One year later, Congress still avoids action on gun control


Lessons from a ‘high-security’ suburb

We have so much to learn from Parkland. And it’s not simply how they built a remarkable social movement. Some lessons become visible only when you actually see the place.

Parkland is a suburb close to the Everglades, 30 minutes from the beach and an hour north of Miami. It is a wealthy, majority-white neighbourhood. But the thing that overwhelmed me when I was driving around is that it is a gated community.

The entire suburb is broken up into large blocks, and at the centre of each block is a single entrance for cars. The road has a security hut, large barriers stretching across and there is a large gate. You need a PIN code to go inside.

When you go through, the homes and streets are beautiful. Green grass, and every home has one of those white mailboxes with a red flag that turns up when the mail arrives.

These gated communities tell you something. Parents choose to live behind walls to create a nice way to live and keep their family safe.

But in Parkland all that security didn’t keep them safe. Darkness found a new way in – and everyone is still feeling the murderous pain.

The limits of security and walls offer a profound lesson for us in Australia as we work out how to respond to the terrorism in Christchurch. Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants to lock up our places of worship – particularly mosques. He wants police with guns and security checks. It’s like he wants to build religious gated communities.




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This approach is consistent with his other policies – use the navy to stop boats, use cages to stop refugees. Our prime minister has only one register – security.

But if Parkland showed anything, it’s that gated communities don’t stop violence. The violence just moves and shifts. An aggressive security response might make you “feel” safer, but it doesn’t make you safe.

At the same time, security heightens the tension. And it does nothing to deal with the causes of the violence.

So how do we respond to the causes of the violence? In Parkland, the main issue was access to guns. The March for Our Lives students called this out quickly. They gained traction because they bravely and forcefully condemned the National Rifle Association for creating the context for mass shootings – easy access to guns.




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It started with the demonisation of others

Our context is different. The issue in Christchurch was about guns, yes, but equally it was about motive. As Australians, one of our citizens “radicalised” themselves to such a point that they massacred other people. How did this happen?

White supremacy. OK, but how do we unpack white supremacy? Who emboldened this? Who made it OK to demonise Muslims – to say they don’t belong?

First, people looked to Pauline Hanson and Fraser Anning. The social movement around #EggBoy shows people’s anger at extremism.

But it’s more than that. Murdoch news media have been running a crusade against Muslims for years. The Coalition has brutalised Muslims and refugees for votes since September 11 2001. And the Labor Party has given bipartisan support to the offshore detention of predominantly Muslim refugees.




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Christchurch attacks are a stark warning of toxic political environment that allows hate to flourish


Come together in love to overcome hate

But knowing who prosecutes hate is not enough. Hate can’t drive out hate. As Martin Luther King junior said, only love can do that.

How do we bring love into our work to stop race being used as a divisive power? I wish I had the answer. But I do know that building love is something that can happen everywhere all the time – not just at vigils or special services.

Can we build a movement that would amplify love at work, in our community, in our schools, where we have intentional conversations to talk about what Christchurch meant and why the Muslim community was targeted?

The Muslim community are in pain. We – especially white people like me and some of you – have to do the heavy lifting on this one. We can take the lead on doing something about white supremacy and dividing people by race and religion.

Imagine if we could take the pain of this moment and turn it into a real reckoning for our country. For as long as white people have stood in Australia we have caused harm to others. But too often we shrug off responsibility through phrases like “the most successful multicultural country in the world”. Or we get scared off the conversation by phrases like the “history wars”.

Yes, the shock jocks will berate and the trolls will yell. But let’s have them yell at white people taking on white supremacy instead of Muslim and other leaders of colour.

It’s time to act. The election is one place – we need to vote for leaders who stand with Muslims because “they are us”.

But this is more than just electoral politics. It’s about a movement committed to connection, understanding, listening, respect and love. And that’s love as a verb, love as action.

A year after the mass shooting, Parkland is still a torn community. Many are still deeply active in social movements pushing for gun law reform. And many others are still healing.

In Parkland the lesson is that they were forever changed, not because of the hate that was inflicted, but because of the love they cultivated in response.The Conversation

Amanda Tattersall, Postdoc in urban geography and Research Lead at Sydney Policy Lab. Host of ChangeMakers Podcast., University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Will the New Zealand gun law changes prevent future mass shootings?



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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a ban on certain military-style weapons.
AAP/David Alexander

Rick Sarre, University of South Australia

As she foreshadowed in the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre last Friday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has just announced a ban in that country on specific military-style firearms. It will soon become an offence to own or possess semi-automatic firearms and shotguns with detachable magazines capable of firing more than five cartridges.

Later this month, the government will consider further changes to the law that will tighten licensing requirements and impose limits on certain types of ammunition. There will be a gun buy-back scheme in place in due course that will provide compensation to those who possess soon-to-be-illegal guns. Preliminary advice suggests that might cost the country between NZ$100 million and NZ$200 million.




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Thoughts immediately go to the aftermath of the 1996 Port Arthur tragedy in Australia. Then-Prime Minister John Howard had been elected only six weeks before the Tasmanian horror unfolded. He immediately set in train the gun control measures that no previous government, conservative or progressive, would ever have thought possible.

The government placed a ban on the sale, transfer, possession, manufacture, and importation of all automatic and most semi-automatic rifles and shotguns (and their parts, including magazines). More than 640,000 such weapons were thereupon surrendered and later destroyed at a cost to the taxpayer of around A$250 million.

In Australia today, there continues to be bipartisan political consensus and broad community support for what was titled the National Firearms Agreement (NFA). In 2017, it was reaffirmed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

There has been some criticism that certain aspects of the original agreement have been watered down in some jurisdictions in recent years, but the requirements outlined by the agreement generally remain intact.

Did the Australian gun ban and buy-back scheme make inroads into the rate of firearm-related deaths? Did it prevent mass shootings? Jacinda Ardern appears to be convinced that answers to both questions are in the affirmative. Let’s look at the evidence from the past 23 years in this country to test her assumptions.




Read more:
No massacres and an accelerating decline in overall gun deaths: the impact of Australia’s major 1996 gun law reforms


Gun violence in Australia since the buy-back

It is unequivocal that gun death rates in Australia have been falling consistently since 1996. Some commentators object to the connection between this trend and the NFA, saying the downturn was simply a continuation of a long-term decline in gun violence generally.

But recent research found that, compared with the trend before 1997, there was a more rapid decline in firearm deaths after the implementation of the NFA.

However, this conclusion was quickly challenged by another researcher, who argued these findings were simply a consequence of the rarity of these events, and that the data were thus skewed.

The researchers on the first paper then set out to test the null hypothesis: that is, that the rate of mass shootings would remain unchanged after the introduction of the NFA. They concluded that while a definitive causal connection between this legislation and the 22-year absence of mass firearm homicides was not possible, there was nevertheless evidence that before 1996, approximately three mass shootings took place every four years. Had they continued at that rate, 16 incidents would have been expected by February 2018, but that pattern did not play out.

The evidence from the National Homicide Monitoring Program, collated by the Australian Institute of Criminology, concurs with the evidence provided by these authors. Its data indicate that the share of murders committed with firearms dropped significantly around the time of the buyback scheme. Indeed, the number of homicide incidents involving a firearm decreased by 57% between 1989-90 and 2013-14.

In 1989-90, firearms were used in 24% of homicides. In 2013-14, the figure was 13%.

Incidentally, in the United States, 60% of homicides are committed by firearms. To the extent that correlations are useful, there should be no surprises here. The US gun ownership rate (guns per 100 people) is more than five times the Australian rate.

Reducing access to firearms lowers the risk of gun deaths

The evidence that countries with higher levels of gun ownership have higher gun homicide, gun suicide, and gun injury rates is convincing. Anyone advocating gun ownership as a means of lowering levels of violence and crime is arguing against the weight of research.




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Jacinda Ardern’s initiative cannot do her country any harm. Twenty-three years after Port Arthur and the NFA, firearm involvement in homicide incidents in Australia, including the involvement of handguns, remains at an historic low.

While it would draw too long a bow to assert conclusively that the downturn in firearm deaths in Australia can be attributed to the gun law reforms alone, the implementation of the NFA can be closely associated with the reductions in mass shootings and firearm deaths.

The choices made by the Ardern government to eliminate certain firearms from New Zealand to improve community safety are consistent with the long-term evidence from Australia.The Conversation

Rick Sarre, Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why this generation of teens is more likely to care about gun violence


Jean Twenge, San Diego State University

When 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, it was just the latest in a tragic list of mass shootings, many of them at schools.

Then something different happened: Teens began to speak out. The Stoneman Douglas students held a press conference appealing for gun control. Teens in Washington, D.C., organized a protest in front of the White House, with 17 lying on the ground to symbolize the lives lost. More protests organized by teens are planned for the coming months.

Teens weren’t marching in the streets calling for gun control after the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. So why are today’s teens and young adults – whom I’ve dubbed “iGen” in my recent book on this generation – speaking out and taking action?

With mass shootings piling up one after another, this is a unique historical moment. But research shows that iGen is also a unique generation – one that may be especially sensitive to gun violence.

Keep me safe

People usually don’t think of teenagers as risk-averse. But for iGen, it’s been a central tenant of their upbringing and outlook.

During their childhoods, they experienced the rise of the helicopter parent, anti-bullying campaigns and, in some cases, being forced to ride in car seats until age 12.

Their behavior has followed suit. For my book, I conducted analyses of large, multi-decade surveys. I found that today’s teens are less likely to get into physical fights and less likely to get into car accidents than teens just 10 years ago. They’re less likely to say they like doing dangerous things and aren’t as interested in taking risks. Meanwhile, since 2000, rates of teen binge drinking have fallen by half.

With the culture so focused on keeping children safe, many teens seem incredulous that extreme forms of violence against kids can still happen – and yet so many adults are unwilling to address the issue.

“We call on our national and state legislatures to finally act responsibly and reduce the number of these tragic incidents,” said Eleanor Nuechterlein and Whitney Bowen, the teen organizers of the D.C. lie-in. “It’s essential that we all feel safe in our classrooms.”

Treated with kid gloves

In a recent analysis of survey data from 8 million teens since the 1970s, I also found that today’s teens tend to delay a number of “adult” milestones. They’re less likely than their predecessors to have a driver’s license, go out without their parents, date, have sex, and drink alcohol by age 18.

This could mean that, compared to previous generations, they’re more likely to think of themselves as children well into their teen years.

As 17-year-old Stoneman Douglas High School student David Hogg put it, “We’re children. You guys are the adults. You need to take some action.”

Furthermore, as this generation has matured, they’ve witnessed stricter age regulations for young people on everything from buying cigarettes (with the age minimum raised to 21 in several states) to driving (with graduated driving laws).

Politicians and parents have been eager to regulate what young people can and can’t do. And that’s one reason some of the survivors find it difficult to understand why gun purchases aren’t as regulated.

“If people can’t purchase marijuana or alcohol at the age of 18, why should they be given access to guns?” asked Stoneman Douglas High School junior Lyliah Skinner.

She has a point: The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, is 19. Under Florida’s laws, he could legally possess a firearm at age 18. But – because he’s under 21 – he couldn’t buy alcohol.

Libertarianism – with limits

At the same time, iGen teens – like their millennial predecessors – are highly individualistic. They believe the rights of the individual should trump traditional social rules. For example, I found that they’re more supportive of same-sex marriage and legalized marijuana than previous generations were at the same age.

Their political beliefs tend to lean toward libertarianism, a philosophy that favors individual rights over government regulations, including gun regulation. Sure enough, support for protecting gun rights increased among millennials and iGen between 2007 and 2016.

But even a libertarian ideologue would never argue that individual freedom extends to killing others. So perhaps today’s teens are realizing that one person’s loosely regulated gun rights can lead to another person’s death – or the death of 17 of their teachers and classmates.

The teens’ demands could be seen as walking this line: They’re not asking for wholesale prohibitions on all guns. Instead, they’re hoping for reforms supported by most Americans such as restricting the sale of assault weapons and more stringent background checks.

In the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the teens’ approach to activism – peaceful protest, a focus on safety and calls for incremental gun regulation – are fitting for this generation.

The ConversationPerhaps iGen will lead the way to change.

Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology, San Diego State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

When the media cover mass shootings, would depicting the carnage make a difference?



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Some argue that news coverage of shootings is too sanitized.
puriri/Shutterstock.com

Nicole Smith Dahmen, University of Oregon

Since 20 children were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, we’ve seen public calls for the release of crime scene photos – the idea being that the visceral horror evoked by images of young, brutalized bodies could spur some sort of action to combat the country’s gun violence epidemic.

The day after the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting, a Slate article echoed the demand for crime scene photos to be released, arguing that if Americans could actually see the bloodshed, we might finally say, “Enough is enough.”

As a scholar who specializes in photojournalism ethics, I’ve thought extensively about how journalism can responsibly cover gun violence, balancing the moral imperatives of seeking truth while minimizing harm. I’ve also studied how images can galvanize viewers.

Fundamental questions remain: What is the line between informing audiences and exploiting victims and their families? Should the media find a balance between shocking and shielding audiences? And when it comes to mass shootings – and gun violence more broadly – if outlets did include more bloody images, would it even make a difference?

The limitations of a photo

On the same day of the Parkland shooting, my research on news images of mass shootings was published. Given the intense yet fleeting nature of media coverage, I wanted to examine how news outlets cover these crimes, specifically through the lens of visual reporting.

The study analyzed nearly 5,000 newspaper photos from three school shootings: Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and Umpqua Community College. Of those images, only 5 percent could be characterized as graphic in nature.

Most depicted the shock and grief of survivors, family and friends. These elements certainly make up an important part of the story. Nonetheless, they create a narrative where, as the Slate article put it, “mass shootings are bloodless.”

Does that matter?

Research has shown that when audiences feel emotionally connected with news events, they’re more likely to change their views or take action. Photographs of violence and bloodshed can certainly serve as a conduit for this emotional connection. Their realism resonates, and they’re able to create a visceral effect that can arouse a range of emotions: sorrow, disgust, shock, anger.

But the power of images is limited. After particularly shocking images appear, what we tend to see are short bursts of activism. For example, in 2015, following the publication of the harrowing image of a drowned Syrian boy lying facedown in the sand, donations to the Red Cross briefly spiked. But within a week, they returned to their typical levels.

The ethics of violent imagery

If a graphic image can inspire some action – even it’s minimal and fleeting – do media outlets have an obligation to run more photos of mass shooting victims?

Perhaps. But other concerns need to be weighed.

For one, there are the victims’ families. Widely disseminated images of their massacred loved ones could no doubt add to their already unthinkable grief.

Moreover, we exist in a media landscape that overwhelms us with images. Individual photographs become harder to remember, to the point that even graphic ones of bloodshed could fade into ubiquity.

Another concern is the presentation of these images. As media consumers, so much of what we see comes from manipulated, sensationalized and trivialized social media feeds. As a colleague and I wrote last year, social media “begs us to become voyeurs” as opposed to informed news consumers. In a digital environment, these images could also be easily appropriated for any number purposes – from pornography to hoaxes – and spread across social media, to the point that their authenticity will be lost.

There’s another unintended consequence: Grisly images could inspire another mass shooting. Research indicates that news coverage of mass shootings – and in particular the attention given to body counts and the perpetrators themselves – can have a contagious effect on would-be mass killers.

Journalism has a responsibility to inform audiences, and sometimes a graphic image does that in a way that words can’t.

However this doesn’t mean that any and all gruesome images should be published. There are professional guidelines for deciding whether to publish these types of images – mainly, to consider the journalistic purpose of publishing them and the “overriding and justifiable need to see” them.

The extent to which graphic images should be present in our news media is an ongoing debate. And it’s one that must continue.

A new image emerges

Following mass shootings, there’s a predictable pattern of news media coverage. There are the breaking news reports filled with speculation. Then details of the perpetrator emerge. Reporters and pundits question whether or not it was an act of terrorism. Elected officials respond with “thoughts and prayers,” and debates about mental health and gun control rage. Finally, there’s coverage of the vigils and funerals.

But this time, there’s something new: images of resistance.

Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are stepping up and demanding action from the country’s elected leaders.

In an impassioned speech, senior Emma Gonzalez chastised lawmakers, stating, “We are up here standing together because if all our government and president can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see.”

This, in the end, may prove to be more effective than any images of bloodshed or grief. Fanning across the news outlets and social media networks, these images of resistance seem to be spurring action, with school walkouts and nationwide protests against gun violence in the works.

Illustrations of protest, courage and resilience – from high school students, no less – might have the power to sink in.

The ConversationPerhaps it will be these images – not those of bloodied victims – that will stir people from complacency and move them to action.

Nicole Smith Dahmen, Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, University of Oregon

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

US School Shooting in Newtown


The link below is to an article at ‘The Guardian’ website on the terrible mass shooting in the US town of Newtown. There are also a number of related stories linked to on the right of the article.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/14/newtown-shooting-gunman-kills-20-children