Skip links

What We Can Learn from the Shootings in Copenhagen and Social Media

Our democratic rules are undermined by our behaviour on social media. We must learn to be responsible public citizens – and ensure that our children are debuting later on social media

Soon after the Fields shootings, pictures started circulating on social media of the suspect and with the suspect’s name. Quickly, our court announced a ban on naming the man or his victims. It is one of our democratic rules that people are innocent until convicted. But on social media, many of us convict people by sharing and commenting on pictures of the perpetrator – or the victims, which is another rule: Media is not where victims’ relatives should see or read about their deceased. The police has been shouting about it: Don’t share those pictures – send it to us.

At the same time, fake news is flooding social media. All of this – horrific images, fear, lies – is experienced directly and live by so many of our children. When horrific images appear on TV, reporters warn about it. When we release movies in Denmark, we age rate them – should only be seen by those over 16 – and then parents can judge from movie to movie, if it’s ok. But when it comes to social media, a lot of people let loose their too young children. There is actually a law saying you must be 13 on Youtube and Facebook as well as Snap, TikTok, Instagram and all the other social media. Parents of 10-year-olds we sitting on TV after the shootings, perplexed about what to say to their children, who are frightened by their experiences on social media. We know that many 7-8 year olds are let loose on Youtube – and no it’s not Youtube Kids for those under 13. Of course we need to talk to our kids about it and maybe get them crisis help, but we also need to look inwards and learn from this.

So what can we as a society learn?

1) If you want facts and trust, go to mainstream publicist media. Yes, they are also sometimes too quick, e.g. when Danish TV interviewed a shocked witness who came out of Fields and kept going on even though it was clear he needed crisis help. But publicist media are subject to democratic rules, such as checking facts before publishing them. So yes, it’s a bit slower than social media and it needs to be slower.

Credibility is more important than speed.

2) We must continue to regulate social media and demand much faster action from them, e.g. removal of pictures of perpetrator and victims. It is insanely irresponsible that Google, which owns Youtube, does not react faster. We should not give social media the same legal responsibility as publicist media, because then we’d destroy social media, which are amateur platforms where everyone can express themselves. But we must demand that they act more quickly, and that they do not make money from their often irresponsible algorithms that optimise for extreme content.

3) Adults must learn to behave in a democratically responsible way on social media. Not spreading lies, unethical images etc. We need to learn to be responsible public people, who know and acknowledge our laws – we could make ethical guidelines for social media just like we have press ethical guidelines.

And then we need to start celebrating SLOW because too many journalists get wet in the pants from BREAKING.

4) We must try and delay the age of our children’s debut on social media. Actually the EU says 16 year, but some countries like Denmark have lowered it to 13. With the age limit being so low, the age of debut will be even lower. Experts, parents and schools all share responsibility for trying to keep children off social media for as long as possible and as close to 13 as possible. Not only to protect them from horrors like what happened in Fields, but also to let them grow up and develop their identity, without constantly having to optimise themselves according to Chinese or American commercial algorithms.

Link to media column in Politiken (in Danish) on experts who ‘forget’ to say you have to be 13 on social media

Link to P1 Morgen about the same (in Danish)

Translated with (free version)

Photo: Annie Spratt,