Digital fixation – before and after Christchurch

At a time when occupational therapists are alerting parents that their child may fall off their chair due to under-developed spatial awareness and balance from too much time on screens (down from 6 hours a day of outside play to an av. of 40 mins)  and democracies are questioning the power of digital campaigns to sway elections,  we have yet another consideration: to what extent is online media coverage causing violence?

For a long time, organisations and individuals have been obsessed with speed, functionality and convenience of the internet. Is it time, or well past time, to consider ethics in how we use the internet?

Disturbing research has come from the University of West Australia claiming a causal link between media coverage and violence. (I don’t like to use the ‘t’ word for fear of glamorising it since I heard about this research.)

An extract from one of Dr Michael Jetter’s discussion papers states “One minute of Al-Qaeda coverage in a 30-minute news segment causes approximately one attack in the upcoming week, equivalent to 4.9 casualties, on average. Further, the effect not only affects the timing of attacks, but rather increases the overall number of Al-Qaeda attacks. These results advise caution in the coverage of Al-Qaeda, as it may directly encourage terrorist attacks.”

He said in an email “It does appear that the more you talk about the shooter, show their pictures and videos, focus on his (it’s usually a male) “intentions”, the more you give him what he wants. The more you sensationalize, the more you give him what he wants.”

This suggests that the coverage of violent acts causes violence. (Is it coincidence that Friday’s perpetrator was known to have spent a lot of time on his computer when growing up, according to his grandmother?)

A tech expert commented at the weekend that merely watching a video raises its prominence; not just reposting it, merely watching it. Shortly after that, a CNN reporter narrated in graphic detail the streamed attack video. (What on earth for?) Another tech expert said we shouldn’t kid ourselves that machines are driving algorithms; no, engineers – human beings – are making the choices.

The time has come to put the discussion of internet ethics before speed, functionality and convenience. If merely viewing online media coverage promulgates violence, are we not then all responsible for the loss of lives?

Immediate actions

  1. Leave viewing of graphic footage to security experts and authorities
  2. Call perpetrators of violence ‘criminals’ – “A crime has occurred and due to a shooter, 50 people have lost their lives.” No sensational terms such has horror, tragedy, terror, fear, gunned down, bloodbath. No extreme terms nor descriptions, no reference to horror nor tragedy.
  3. Sensationalize the response of community action and support. Simply focus coverage on the deluge of care, support, actions, community, togetherness, refuge, safety, prevention and recovery.
  4. Switch off the coverage when it sensationalises violence using ‘cheap thriller’ terminology. Don’t buy the paper that has extreme terms on the front page.

Vote with your feet as well as your fingers. Lives may depend on this choice. Or accept that you are increasing the violence. That is the ethical choice in front of every one of us.


About Cherri Holland

Fascinated with business, brains and how to use the brains on the payroll to make business buzz.
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