For me, mass killer will never have a name
Looking at him, you would think he was harmless. The guy next door who always had a smile on his face and was always ready to help.
In the photo, he was seen wearing a black hood and pursing his lips sweetly, as if to blow a kiss. However, it was the kiss of death, judging from the machine gun he was holding.
This image has been shared across the world -- he was the perpetrator of the mass shooting at Nakhon Ratchasima's Terminal 21 mall. Overnight, this man became a world-famous mass murderer.
And all celebs -- be they good or bad -- are given a moniker. The South China Morning Post named him the "baby-faced soldier", while in Thailand he's being called the "mad sergeant" or ja klang, a tag derived from his nickname and his rank -- Sergeant Major 1st Class.
For me, however, he will either be the "perpetrator", or simply "that guy". Even though I've given him many vicious names, I prefer to keep them to myself and have instead launched an online hashtag "#callhimbynoname". My goal is to deny mass killers the fame and recognition they crave.
Hopefully, this campaign will convince the public and the media to not publish photographs in which "that guy" looks impressive or intimidating, or even share his name.
Many studies such as "Contagion in Mass Killings and School Shootings", published in 2015 by the Arizona State University, have shown that mass shootings can be "contagious" and the media may play a role in helping to transmit it.
Meanwhile, a study entitled "Mass Shootings: The Role of the Media in Promoting Generalised Imitation", a much-quoted study conducted by the American Public Health Association, shows that the publication of a perpetrator's image, life story and even details of the events can influence copycats.
These studies have led to state directives on media coverage of mass-shooting incidents. The US administration has been running a "Don't Name Them" campaign and has set guidelines on mass-killing reportage.
Apart from calling on the media to avoid sensationalising mass killings and revealing the identity of the shooter, the campaign also limits live press events, cuts down on news coverage and avoids in-depth descriptions of the shooters' rationale for engaging in this behaviour.
My #callhimbynoname hashtag has received support from most of my friends, with the exception of once called Daniel Jager, who has come up with an interesting argument: "Denying the perpetrator's name or face will also mean that no one will be invested in cleaning up that part for which they were responsible."
He also said: "Understanding the person is not feeling sorry for him, but for us to learn how these things come about and learn how to become more diligent."
His comments are relevant. Thailand is facing a challenge of how to understand the motivation of the perpetrator and how to present information about him without unintentionally turning him into an anti-hero.
However, I'm afraid we are heading down that very path. Just a few days after the shooting, the media and observers have already built up that guy's emotions and his life based entirely on hearsay, speculation and viral posts.
In their hypotheses, that guy was a product of social injustice, a low-ranked solider who was being mistreated by his boss and swindled by a real-estate agent who refused to pay him his share of the land-agent's fee. He apparently snapped over this "injustice" and decided to launch his grossly disproportionate vendetta.
Stories like this entice sympathy. Two pranksters in the Northeast were arrested on Monday over Facebook posts, in which they threatened to mimic the mass shooting in their hometowns because they too were "downtrodden dogs".
It is copycats like these who worry me and what's worse is that focusing on the wrong side of the story will only prevent us from addressing the real cause of the violence.
What we really need is reportage that is less sensational and more professional, quoting responsible opinions that can help people make sense of the incident. We need the opinions of criminologists and psychologists to explore the background of the killer and maybe consider the case on a medical basis, such as the neuron-chemical reactions in that man's brain.
We also need a neutral body to look into the allegedly shady land-purchase schemes within the Nakhon Ratchasima military base. Also, it is necessary to look into how the welfare of other soldiers can be protected instead of finding a quick, oversimplified explanation for the most horrendous massacre in the country's history.
Anchalee Kongrut is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.
Assistant News Editor
Bangkok Post's Assistant News Editor