Communication scholar at USC Annenberg

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Almost One Year Later, Our Study on the Pulse Shooting Reminds Us of Media's Importance

I have a somber excitement today. My most recent article with friend and colleague Nathan Walter and Professor Sheila Murphy, "On the Boundaries of Framing Terrorism: Guilt, Victimization, and the 2016 Orlando Shooting" has officially been accepted for publication in Mass Communication and Society and has been made available online ahead of print. The article is part of a special issue on media, terrorism, and society, and it looks at the differential effects of two alternative framings of the Orlando shooting—framing it as a homophobic hate crime versus as an Islamic terror attack—on collective-level emotions and on pro-LGBTQ political action. The "boundaries" of framing we found pertained to social network diversity—having an LGBTQ person in your immediate social network makes you more likely to take pro-LGBTQ action in response to the shooting, regardless of the frame to which you were exposed.

But what makes my excitement at the article finally being out somber—beyond the subject matter—is the origins of the project. On Sunday, June 12, the day after the attack on Pulse nightclub in Orlando, I woke up in Fukuoka, Japan, where I was for the 2016 International Communication Association conference. It was a hard day for me and for every other queer person at the conference, and while we did what we could to be there for one another in mourning, it didn't make me feel any better; I had this sick, twisted, dark feeling lodged in my chest that I couldn't shake, even by surrounding myself with friends who did their best to fill me with laughter because they knew how much I was hurting. The rest of the conference was hard for the community of queer scholars there, and the news of that night coloured every interaction we had with one another.

On my way back to the United States, I was lucky enough to share a layover in Tokyo with my friend (and all-around genius) Nathan, so we grabbed dinner, chatted, and generally just enjoyed one another's company. While we sat at our gate waiting to board, though, the subject shifted to the Pulse attack and I spilled out my complicated feelings, including the strange guilt I felt at the fact I couldn't help "academic-ize" the thoughts I was having; I found myself involuntarily processing the events through theory, which, while comforting to me in some ways, felt inappropriately clinical and unfeeling in a moment fraught with so much hurt, anxiety, and mourning. I felt like somewhat of a monster for spinning tragedy into research. But Nathan told me he understood that instinct—processing Pulse through theory was just using the resources available to me to make sense of a senseless tragecy—and that while my research may not stop bullets, that doesn't mean it doesn't make a difference. And then he indulged my instinct: we spoke at great length about the theoretical ideas the attack stimulated for us and we even circled around the concepts that became the seeds of our eventual article. I got on the plane feeling better (and a bit less like a monster). 

Once back in the US, Nathan followed up on our conversation because Sheila had some available funding and she was really interested in the ideas we'd had. We spent some time hammering out the specifics, launching the study as soon as possible, and writing up the article over the next few months in time for the fortuitous Mass Communication and Society special issue call. Now it's been accepted and is finally available, and I find myself again back with my conflicted feelings of guilt and pride: I'm excited the work is available and hopeful that it will help us understand the important role media play in the aftermath of such tragedies. But I'm also unsettled to be "capitalizing" in some way off the death of my queer siblings. I'm not sure I'll ever fully resolve that feeling, but regardless I hope this work honors them well and that I'll never find myself working on another project under such circumstances.

With all of that said, here's the abstract for the article:

The 2016 Orlando shooting offers an intriguing lens through which to evaluate the boundaries of media frames in the interpretation of terrorism. Using an experimental design (N = 243), the current study investigated the effects of two dominant frames—the homophobic hate crime and the Islamic terrorist frame—on collective guilt, collective victimization, and pro–lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) political action. In addition, political partisanship and social network diversity were evaluated as potential moderators. Compared to the Islamic terrorist frame, exposure to the homophobic hate crime frame increased collective guilt and decreased collective victimization, subsequently enhancing support for the LGBTQ community. Moreover, social network diversity was shown to override the framing effect, as individuals who reported high diversity were more likely to sign a petition in solidarity with the LGBTQ community, irrespective of frame condition.

If you want to read the full article, you can download the proofs here, on my CV page, or from the "Selected Publications" section of my Research page. #RememberPulse