Tragically, more than 20 percent of mass shootings, as tracked by the National Institute of Justice for the past 50 years, have occurred in the past five. The past three have been the deadliest. In the U.S., there is well-deserved attention on the availability of guns (because the deadliness of method and ease of access to weapons matter greatly) and on whether we pay sufficient attention to mental health support for troubled young men.

But there is one more factor that is only recently getting some of the scrutiny it deserves: the role that social contagion plays in inspiring those troubled individuals to choose this course. People routinely underestimate how social humans are. We all have a viewpoint and an inner life, of course. But in the 20 years since Columbine and other mass shootings, we can say with increasing confidence what is, in retrospect, almost blindingly obvious: the shooters are inspired by those who came before—and how we react to shootings is part of the unfortunate cycle feeding them.

We can look all the way back to ancient Greece for the archetype: Herostratus, the arsonist who burned down the second Temple of Artemis in Ephesus to immortalize his name, albeit in infamy. As Roman writer Valerius Maximus noted, “A man was found to plan the burning of the temple of Ephesian Diana so that through the destruction of this most beautiful building his name might be spread through the whole world.”

Indeed, here I am, spreading it. In response to his terrible act, Herostratus was given the damnatio memoriae treatment: he was removed from all official historical records, and all public mention of him was banned. The magnitude of his crime, however, meant that he eventually found his way to some accounts nonetheless.

Contrast damnatio memoriae with our own treatment of mass shooters. Most readers who were old enough when the Columbine tragedy happened almost certainly know the names of the shooters. It is understandable because when confronted with the seemingly unimaginable, we want to understand, so we turn our attention to the individuals. Mass shooters' names and faces dominate the media, and if they leave manifestos, those spread virally as well. Even if they are being condemned, they are noted, remembered and immortalized.

Unfortunately, not everyone reacts in horror. The man who murdered 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., an almost unfathomable crime, was obsessed with the fame and attention the Columbine shooters received. He collected clippings about their act and downloaded videos and other material from other mass shootings, as well as gun suicides. He then went on to commit his own horror.

This is not an isolated case. We have quantitative evidence that reveals a spike in such shootings in the period following extensive mass media coverage of one, and reports and law-enforcement investigations show that many shooters study previous shooters, collect news stories about them and study their methods. In a terrible twist, they even focus on the numbers of their victims in an effort to up that count—realizing that the higher the number, the more coverage and attention they will receive in the “rankings,” so to speak, as if it were a video-game scoreboard.

None of this is meant to make light of the other factors—availability of guns or mental health support—and does not necessarily speak to all mass shootings, some of which are more akin to terrorism. It does, however, tell us something important about ancient wisdom: damnatio memoriae may well be the correct method, as hard as it may seem.

In the modern world, we cannot and should not censor media coverage of the event; however, we can definitely change the way we report it and talk about it. Instead of profiling the murderers, we can focus on the victims; instead of publicizing their often incoherent ramblings, we can dismiss the content as the pathetic words of murderers, and we can certainly avoid plastering the faces and the names of the killers on media outlets and social media. That will not be a full solution, because the other factors need tackling as well, but it is one important step in denying these troubled men the one thing they seek above almost everything: posthumous infamy.