Criminogenic media is content produced by the media that is thought to be a direct result of the media. This implies that the media has the ability to influence behavior.
Because the media focuses on more serious crimes, perception leads you to believe that the majority of crime is ‘serious crime’, consequently as a result of exposure, society believes that we are surrounded by serious crime, when in fact, that is not the case. People’s emotions are exploited by the media, which is why specific stories are presented in order to sell.
The media, in all its forms, is a significant contributor to social aggression and a good predictor of criminal activity as any other social factor. For example, consider how the media creates moral panic in response to specific events. They created a toilet roll crisis at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, even though there was enough toilet roll for everybody!
What is Moral Panic?
Moral panic originated in the 1970’s and is defined as a “condition, episode, group or person(s) who emerge to become defined as a threat to societal rallies and interests”. Its nature is presented in a stylised and stereotypical fashion by the mass media.
Defining characters of moral panic include, (1) The media highlighting ordinary events and escalating them into something extraordinary, (2) The demonisation of the ‘perceived’ wrong doers, (3) Moral panic theory usually occurs during periods of rapid social change.
There is a difference in control of narrative with the media on moral panic theory between social media and television media. Take police brutality, for example, and the illustration and communication of these events to society. The television media has editorial limitations and seems to perceive the police in a positive light of assisting in the government’s needs. Juxtaposed to social media that highlights more of the ‘truth’ and negative factors of police brutality, providing a more unfiltered approach.
Priming Theory and Copycat Crime
“Social conditions that increase the permissibility and functional value of crime easily override the effects of personal dispositions. For this reason, it is primarily types of social inducements rather than types of people that should be examined in predicting who will put into practice what has been learned from the media” Bandura (1973).
Many theorise that the media in the form of video games and violent movies/tv shows can influence one’s criminal behaviour. One prime example can be the criminal behaviour of copycat crimes: when you have someone committing a crime which is copied from somewhere else, usually these ‘copied crimes’ were first discovered in the media and in the cinema. An example of this is the movie ‘Project X’ which in the US has been accused of generating a copycat string of parties, in which one ended up with a fatality. Copycat parties were attracting between 500-1000 people each time. In one instance the partygoers caused more than $100,000 in damage.
According to the priming theory, when people experience an event through the media, ideas with similar meanings to those contained in the media content are activated for a short period of time, and these thoughts may result in related actions. For example, in Project X, young people were intrigued by what the movie showed and were inclined to be party people, so they harbored this idea for a period of time and, in some cases, acted on the idea and organised similar parties to the ones shown in the film.
Another string of criminogenic media is media-oriented terrorism. This branch has grown in popularity in recent years, owing to the fact that certain terrorist groups “rely on public coverage” for their crimes, the need for as much publicity as possible for the act.
Acts are aimed at a wide range of external audiences. Terrorists choose to strike in the heart of Western world cities because they receive the most attention with victims being chosen for symbolic meaning to maximise fear and public impact.
“For the media, terrorism is dramatic, often violent, visual and timely. Unlike wars which are usually protracted and highly complex events, acts of terrorist violence normally have a beginning and an end, can be encompassed in a few minutes of air time, possess a large degree of drama, involve participants who are perceived by the viewing public as unambiguous, and not so complex as to be unintelligible to those who tune in briefly” Neil Livingstone (The War Against Terrorism).