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Making Sense of Elliot Rodger's Manifesto

May 30, 2014

Twenty-two-year old Elliot Roger killed six people in a rampage in Santa Barbara, California.

Credit A.P.

It was a rampage predicted by a series of YouTube videos and writings that serve as a manifesto of a young man seeking revenge for his loneliness.

The news media was all over this back story to the tragic killings.

But was that coverage an attempt to explain why this tragedy happened or just to sensationalize an already sensational story?

"There is always the temptation to put out whatever information you can get your hands on immediately when you have such a compelling tragedy like this," said Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's Sense-Making Project. "But these videos, his 137 page manifesto, all of these are very harmful unless you bring appropriate context to them... You can't just put out the information without adding some expert analysis."

But isn't that just a kind of armchair psychoanalysis?

"I would disagree," McBride said. "I think we all have a responsibility to recognize dangerous people and to try and intervene. You may know people in your own life who exhibit this type of behavior. How will you know whether it's truly dangerous if you don't get exposed to it in some way? But the preventative effects only come with the right type of context and analysis."