Every action taken against terrorism has a cost. Those that hope to receive protection, or at least benefit from the effort are the ones who pay the cost. Military operations are costly and the lives of personnel may be taken also. Intelligence operations, the same. Information and cyber efforts have a cost. So too do humanitarian efforts (those funded by the government with the use of taxpayer money and those funded more directly by the American people). Every challenge of this magnitude calls for a multi-layered response, and the debate on how to best focus and direct our collective resources is healthy and necessary. But no matter the chosen configuration, all of them ultimately has a cost to the people, the everyday citizens who hope to benefit from the efforts. We pay with our taxes, with the lives of our men and women in uniform, and often with our liberty, that tumultuous trade-off.
But among every tool that may be applied to the challenge of living in a world where civilized society is faced with the persistent threat of terrorism, there is one action that, for the lowest possible cost to citizens, has the greatest potential benefit to the effort.
Don’t name them.
Every news organization and media pundit (or influential blogger) that states the name of a murderer only increases their notoriety further. Psychology and common sense tells us that notoriety is a supremely powerful thing that fanatical crazy people and calculating bloodthirsty individuals often crave as much as their desire to commit atrocities. It may be the thing they crave above all else. It gives them the attention they desire and elevates the status of the organizations to which they pledge their allegiance.
…and it isn’t even necessary for effective reporting.
Criminalizing the naming of mass murderers, terrorists and would-be operators isn’t the solution (and would likely prove counter-productive). But the decision comes with a cost. Not naming them would cost the citizens of a society very little and could be a hugely useful tool in the effort, denying murders the notoriety they crave. What would it cost the media? Not naming them. What is their calculation?
If innocent lives could be saved by the simple act of not naming the perpetrators of violent acts of murder what is the cost-benefit calculation of news and media organizations and the individuals who run them? Maybe we watch and see. Maybe we let them show us how their cost-benefit analysis weighs out. Whenever a news organization gives glory and notoriety and infamy to a perpetrator of mass murder then we might rightly conclude their cost-benefit calculation as follows: “We would rather sell more copy/advertising and otherwise increase revenue even if it will cost additional pain and more innocent lives further on.”
Remember, there is always one individual who has the power and authority to make the call, be it an editor or an influential blogger or the owner of a media property. Someone has the authority to take a position and make the call. Do we name them (and maybe reap a benefit from it)? Do we choose not to name them, and try in some way to do our part to help keep our fellow citizens, our friends and our family and our children out of harms way?