Some weeks ago, in the German town Herne, a young person committed a horrible crime by killing an innocent child—out of pure lust and without any apparent wrongdoing on the part of the child it seemed. It became known that the young person was an active member of 4chan, a website that, next to several other threads, includes one in which atrocious and deviant acts are being openly celebrated by the community. In that thread, pictures of the murder were posted shortly after the killing.
So, quite predictably, soon afterward questions of whether the website contributed to the murder or not were risen by the media throughout the entire country. I myself was also interviewed by the German website noizz.org, which is a young, rather provocative, and boulevardesque popular news outlet. Although I do not approve of the article’s mentioning of the young person’s full name, overall, I think that the piece written by Alina Leinbach represents an interesting and balanced portrayal of the events. If you’re interested, you can read the (German) article here.
In short, here’s what I think: I hold that websites such as 4chan can indeed contribute to the radicalization of people and that one should not be too quick to consider their influence irrelevant. From both scientific studies and personal experiences I have learned that there is some truth to the saying “garbage in, garbage out”. That said, of course the website is not the causal factor that made this young person go beserk. Most definitely, the roots lie in a profound sociopsychological illness; factors such as lack of empathy, lack of self-esteem, lack of received love, negative biographical experiences, or insecure attachment all played more important roles.
So in order to prevent disasters such as these, and without trying to sound overtly idealistic, instead of blaming the media it is more helpful to take a salutogenetic approach and make sure that people are psychologically healthy and that everyone has his or her proper place in our society—difficult as that may be.