A recent study by some university professors in Australia has come up with startling conclusions. The more the media covers terrorism and specific acts of terror, the more it tends to inspire copycat terror attacks.
Is this the plan by terrorists in the first place or the psychological phenomenon known as the Werther effect? Either way, the conclusion is clear that the daily coverage of news events, and yes, they have to be covered, can influence how others act.
Michael Jetter, an economics specialist at the University of Western Australia in Perth, has been researching the relationship between the media and terrorism. Jetter’s recently published study involves 61,000 acts of terrorism in 200 countries, ranging from the years 1970 to 2012, and the coverage of those events in the US daily newspaper The New York Times.
The results suggest a correlation between the number of attacks and the intensity of the media coverage – to the extent that every new report about an attack increases the number of attacks in the following week by 1.4 times.
Is that really possible?
Jetter says his test proves it: “You see it on days when the coverage is about a hurricane and not about al Qaeda, that there are fewer attacks in the following week.”
The Werther effect is the phenomenon that occurs as the number of suicides in a population increase when the media coverage of a suicide is sensationalist and comes with a ton of detail.
This raises the question on not only how much terrorism cases should be reported but in how much detail as well. There are no easy answers. The media’s job is to report the news as it happens. But in how they go about that job is a question that should be discussed.
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