How Media Fuels Our Fear of Terrorism

A very large portion of the news we consume is about terrorism in America and Europe. That coverage has consequences on how people live their lives.

In the wake of the San Bernardino terrorist attacks, one women (who did not yet have kids) told the New York Times she planned to home school her future children for fear of mass shootings. Another man recounted that he now watches movies at home instead of in public theaters. Another stated she now steers clear of crowded public areas.

We hear about terrorists attacks in the media and then adjust our lives based on how we process that information. But is the amount of media coverage dedicated to terrorism in the West in anyway commensurate with the actual risk of terrorism we face?

In this article, let’s see how an American newspaper ( The New York Times ) covers terrorism, and show that this selective coverage can give us a distorted sense of the world using actual data. The aim of this analysis is to show how news media — especially social media — cover/distributes a non-representative set of events based on what is relevant/engaging to their audience. Readers and viewers then use this selective data to infer what the entire reality is.

Media is data for human decisions, and selective media is selective data. Selective data can lead to bad inferences and bad decisions, as was the case with the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger . Selective facts can actually be worse than no facts or fake news, as it can give us a false sense of confidence...


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