Doctoral dissertation

Jenni Raitanen: Deep Interest in School Shootings Online

Tohtori
School shootings are a global phenomenon, and the perpetrators use symbolic violence to send a message beyond the site of the violence. School shooters are impacted by cultural scripts that describe the reasons and methods for school shootings. These scripts and narratives related to school shootings are circulated online. Many school shooters have been active online, using the internet as part of their actions, for example, by publishing pictures and writings before their massacre.

M. Soc. Sc. Jenni Raitanen studied in her dissertation school-shooting-related communities and their effects.

The media and, nowadays, social media have amplified and circulated school shooting narratives and thus given the perpetrators the fame and status. The online world is also a place where school-shooting-related communities are formed. People deeply interested in school shootings share, create, and circulate material on these massacres and their perpetrators. However, deep interest in school shootings is an under researched phenomenon, and its impact on and relation to school shootings are not well understood. The aim of this dissertation is to broaden the understanding of online communities built around school shootings and the effects these communities have on school shootings.

Data for the study were collected through online interviews of 22 people deeply interested in school shootings. Seven of these interviewees were interviewed a second time. In addition, a yearlong online ethnography was conducted to support the interviews and to broaden understanding of the phenomenon.

The interviews were semistructured, and the interviewees came from different parts of the world. According to the findings, people deeply interested in school shootings form global online communities that are present on different social media platforms. In these communities, material related to school shootings is created, recreated, and circulated. People deeply interested in school shootings also circulate narratives that explain why school shootings happen.

Even though the interviewees came from different parts of the world, their narratives were strikingly similar, as the interviewees talked extensively about school shooters’ bullying experiences and other social problems shooters had faced as well as bullying experiences the interviewees had encountered in their own lives. One or both of these narratives appeared in 21 of the 22 interviews.

However, at the same time, deep interest in school shootings has many forms. People deeply interested in school shootings differ in their focus and level of interest, and they can be divided to four subgroups: researchers, fangirls, Columbiners, and copycats. Membership in these subgroups may overlap, and individuals can move from one group to another.

Raitanen also found that people deeply interested in school shootings can be divided into three groups based on how radical their opinions related to school shootings are: people with neutral opinions, people who sympathize with some school shooters, and people who are interested in conducting a massacre of their own.

Most of the interviewees could be categorized in the sympathizer group, and none could be categorized in the group with those who are interested in conducting their own massacre. Some interviewees however expressed worry about potential school shooters in their communities. The opinions related division was based on a theory developed in terrorism studies and showed in practice how school shooting research and terrorism research could benefit from one another, even though these two attack types now are researched mainly in different fields.

Altogether, according to the findings in the dissertation, a deep interest in school shootings does not equal a desire to conduct a school shooting. However, online school-shooting communities circulate school-shooting-related narratives and give the perpetrators fame and recognition.

At the same time, school-shooting communities are underused in the prevention of school shootings, as many of their members do not condone the violence of school shootings, and some are worried about potential school shooters among them. Focusing more on online communities formed around school shootings can provide new insights leading to the understanding and prevention of school shootings.

The doctoral dissertation of M. Soc. Sc. Jenni Raitanen titled Deep Interest in School Shootings Online will be publicly examined at the Faculty od Social Sciences of Tampere University at 12 o'clock on Friday 29 January, 2021. Professor Paul Gill from University College London will be the opponent while Professor Atte Oksanen will act as the custos.

Because of the coronavirus situation, the event can only be followed via remote connection.

The dissertation is available online at
http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-03-1814-7