Archive for March 12th, 2010
Two competing anxieties can be discerned in public debate and both are reflected in a large research literature. On the one hand the media are often seen as fundamentally subversive threat to law, on the other as a more or less subtle form of social control. Some researchers tacitly imply that media images of crime do not have significant implications because the establishment of the causal relationship between images and effects is too complicated.
Content of media images of crime
Richard Ericsson and his colleagues: their concern was “social deviance and how journalists participate in defining and shaping it”. Deviance in its broadest meaning, can be defined as “the behaviour of a thing or person that strays from the normal…not only..criminal acts, but also..straying from organisational procedures and violations of common-sense knowledge”. More importantly, deviance is the essence of news and which journalists consider newsworthy. It can also be questioned on what is included in common-sense knowledge which directly affects the representation of crime reported.
Ericsson et al. also found that “popular” media focused overwhelmingly more often on “interpersonal” conflicts and deviance, but “quality” ones included many items on such official deviance as rights violations, or on policy debates about criminal justice or corporate conduct.
The pattern of crime news
Content analyses have found systematic differences between the pattern of offences, victims, and offenders represented by the news and in official crime statistics or crime surveys. Whilst statistics and surveys may represent the “real” world of crime, they are open for interpretation, depending on the context.
An implicit assumption that the gap between media representations of crime and the actuality supposedly disclosed by official statistics causes significant problems – they are accused of exaggerating the risks of crime, cultivating an image of the world that is “scary” and “mean”.
Fear of crime and the coping strategies it leads to (such as not venturing out at night) are deemed disproportionate to the actual risks, and thus irrational and problematic in themselves (Sparks 1992).
Success of police and criminal justice: there is also the exaggeration of police success in clearing-up crime (resulting largely from Press reliance on police sources for stories). Summed up in a review of fifty-six content analyses in fifteen different countries between 1960 and 1988, “the over-representation of violent crime stories was advantageous to the police…because the police are more successful in solving violent crimes than property crimes”. The media generally present a very positive image of the success and integrity of the police and criminal justice more generally.
Characteristics of offender: there is a clear pattern to news media portrayal of the characteristics of offenders and victims. Most studies find that offenders featuring in news reports are typically older and higher-status offenders than those processed by the criminal justice system.
Characteristics of victims: there is a clear trend for victims to become the pivotal focus of news stories in the last three decades. This parallels the increasing centrality of victims in criminal justice and criminology. News stories exaggerate the risks faced by higher status, white, female adults of becoming victims of crime, although child victims do feature prominently. The most common victims of violence according to official crime statistics and victim surveys are poor, young, black males. However, they figure in news reporting predominantly as perpetrators.
There is a predominance of stories about criminal incidents, rather than analyses of crime patterns or the possible causes of crime. There is a concentration of events rather than exploration of the underlying causes. As summed up in one survey of the literature, “crime stories in news papers consist primarily of belief accounts of discrete events, with few details and little background material. There are very few attempts to discuss causes of or remedies for crime or to put the problem of crime into a larger perspective”.
Content of crime fiction
Frequency of crime fiction: while there have been important changes over time in how crime is represented in fictional narratives, crime stories have always been a prominent part of popular entertainment, usually accounting for about 25% of output.
The pattern of crime in fiction
While crime fiction presents property crime less frequently than the reality suggested by crime statistics, the crimes it portrays are far more serious than most recorded offences.
The clear-up rate is also high in fictional crime. Overwhelmingly majority of crimes are cleared up by the police but an increasing majority where they fail.
Consequences of media images of crime
Most research has sought to measure two possible consequences of media representations: criminal behaviour (especially violence) and fear of crime.
There are several logically necessary preconditions for a crime to occur and the media play a part in each of these, thus can affect levels of crime in a variety of ways. The preconditions are as follows:
- Labelling: for an act to be labelled as “criminal”, the act has to be perceived as “criminal” by the citizens and the law enforcement officers. The media plays an important role in shaping the conceptual boundaries and recorded volumes of crime. The role of the media in helping to develop new (and erode old) categories of crime has been emphasised in most classic studies of shifting boundaries of criminal law within the “labelling” tradition. The media shape the boundaries of deviance and criminality, by creating new categories of offence, or changing the perceptions and sensitivities, leading to fluctuations in apparent crime.
- Social anomie theory: the media are pivotal in presenting for universal emulation images of affluent life-styles, which accentuate relative deprivation and generate pressures to acquire ever higher levels of material success regardless of the legitimacy of the means used.
- Psychological theory: it has been claimed that the images of crime and violence presented by the media are a form of social learning, and may encourage crime by imitation or arousal effects. It has also been argued that the media erode internalised control by desensitisation through witnessing repeated representations of deviance.
- Means: it has been alleged that the media act as an open university of crime, spreading knowledge of criminal techniques. However, the evidence available to support this allegation remains weak.
- Opportunity: the media may increase opportunities to commit offences by contributing to the development of a consumerist ethos. The domestic hardware/software of mass media use e.g. TVs, radios, PCs, have become common targets of property crime and their increase in popularity has been an important aspect of the spread of criminal opportunities.
- The absence of controls: external control – police, law-enforcement officers; internal control – small voice of conscience; both of which may be enough to deter a ready-to-commit offender from offending. A regular recurring theme of respectable anxieties about the consequence of media images of crime is that they erode the efficacy of both external and internal controls. E.g. ridiculing law-enforcement agents, negative representation of criminal justice or potential offender’s perception of the probability of sanctions.
The media and fear of crime
Signoriello (1990): Fearful people are more dependent, more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line postures – both political and religious. They may accept and even welcome repression if it promises to relieve their insecurities and other anxieties. That is the deeper problem of violence-laden television.
Causes of media images of crime
The immediate source of news content was the ideology of the reporter, personal and professional and this view is supported by most of the earlier studies. However, a variety of organisational and professional imperatives exerted pressure for the production of news with the characteristics identified by content analyses:
- The political ideology of the Press: majority of the press intend to remain politically neutrality. Traditional crime reporters explicitly saw it as their responsibility to present the police and the criminal justice system in as favourable a light as possible. However, the characteristics of crime reporting were more immediately the product of a professional sense of news values rather than any explicitly political ideology.
- The elements of “newsworthiness”: the core elements of “newsworthiness” are: immediacy, dramatisation, personalisation, titillation and novelty (hence, most news are about deviance). This explains the predominant emphasis on violent and sex offences, and the concentration on higher-status offenders and victims, especially celebrities.
- Structural determinants of new-making: e.g. concentrating personnel on courts is economical use of resources but has the consequence of covering cleared-up cases, creating a misleading sense of police effectiveness. The police and criminal justice system control much of the information on which crime reporters rely and this gives them a degree of power as essential accredited sources.
Relevance to cybercrime
Deviance is the essence of news; it is the key virtue that makes something newsworthy. This means that the selection of reported incidents depend heavily on how the media’s definition of deviance. In addition, the success of police, the characteristics of the offender(s) and victim(s) involved in the incident are major factors that affects the amount of coverage an incident will receive in the media.
With regards to cybercrimes, it is interesting to find out the difference between the amount of coverage of cybercrimes in the media and the actual number of incidents in cybercrime statistics. My guess is that cybercrimes are heavily under-reported and the reasons for this under-reporting are made apparent by the findings given above. Cybercrimes are often carried out by more than one offender on a global scale and often anonymous. In some cases, they are carried out by highly-skilled but ordinary looking males (who are usually classified as social excluded or “geeks”) with little valuable newsworthy characteristics. The victims of cybercrimes most often are not aware they have become victims or the impact is so insignificant that it is not newsworthy. In other words, it is hard for the media to find newsworthy stories to tell with regards to the victims of cybercrimes (with the exception of online child offences). In addition, I believe that people are generally not interested in cybercrime-related news items because there is an a-priory assumption that cybercrime issues are too difficult to gain a visualisation in their head, as one would normally see in a picture capturing an act of violence for example.
This part has given me new insights into looking at the failure in promoting awareness of cybercrime in a climate where crime is often exaggerated by the media. Traditional crimes such as theft and violence are often exaggerated to an extent that the level of fear is irrational. Yet, the attitude towards cybercrime is opposite. The level of fear and the precautionary measures in response to the fear is not enough for the average internet users to protect themselves sufficiently. I strongly believe that content analysis of news reports is an important area in the research into raising public awareness to cybercrime.
Currently reading: Internet Politics – Andrew Chadwick
Brief overview of what has been read:
As mentioned in my last blog, this week a selection of more focused subjects regarding politics on the web will be studied. Andrew Chadwick’s Internet Politics (Although really Web Politics) discusses the impact of new communication technologies on political parties, pressure groups, social movements etc.
There has been two major aspects with has been studied, conceptual tools and theories for Internet Politics, and also Community, Deliberation and Participation, formally known as E-Democracy. Although a very narrow selection of topics which are discussed within the book, it seemed a good starting point to help direct the reading towards the issue trying to be addressed.
The chapters being discussed are:
• Chapter 2: Conceptual Tools
• Chapter 5: Community, Deliberation, and Participation: E-Democracy
Knowledge gained and relevance to issue:
As a good introduction to the area of Internet Politics two major concepts were introduced, Technological determinism (TD) and social determinism (SD). Technological determinism, as Chadwick suggested has a long history, with it being argued that Marxism is TD. It is based on the notion that the material basis of society is the primary motor of social, economic and ultimately political change; however Marxism is limited in its ability to understand how humans mold technological change. Furthermore, Webster argued that the new communication technologies have ushered in a new age, an information society which differs fundamentally from the social orders of the past. This suggests that whatever the content of the technology, they have their own inherent properties that human intervention cannot change; these properties can be therefore used to predict future social, economic and political change.
Oh the other hand, Social Determinism, which is also known as “social shaping of technology”, supported by many post-war writers such as Lewis Mumford, argues the case that specific technologies do not in themselves matter. What social scientists believe is that they merely need to reconstruct the social context of technological change to explain all that is considered to be important. In the case of the Web: Nothing is particularly new or distinctive, and that we make sense of its effects by referring to pre-existing models of social and political change. As technology is presumed to be nothing special, SD suggests that only social forces need to be examined, such as power struggles, groups, classes and institutions. Technology therefore becomes another policy area.
However what is suggested is that on the Web, neither Technological nor Social determinism can be seen, it is rather a mix of the two. Where technologies have political properties while simultaneously placing their use in political contexts. Landon Winner argues that there are two senses in which technologies can have political properties. Winner defines the first as:
“the invention, design or arrangement of a specific technical device or system becomes a way of settling an issue in the affairs of a particular community”
This is arguing that technological structures sometimes inhibit types of social and political action. Winner’s second view is:
“Some technologies are by their very nature political in a specific way”
This is suggesting that some technologies are inherently political, and are strongly compatible with particular kinds of political relationships; this therefore suggests that the technologies are inflexible, as only performing specific duties.
Furthermore, there are cases where understanding the political nature of technologies may not help, for instance, sometimes the technology may not be political at all, but instead examine the situation in a SD fashion, seeing the power struggle take place external to the technology. Alternatively, there may be the case where a failure to see how the technology is shaping society can occur.
Another key topic that was read was looking at the theoretical approaches to political impact. Philip Agre outlines 8 key conceptual themes:
o The use of networks to reduce the claim to expert knowledge
o Everyone has their place on the Web, people coming together and forming discussion
o The political debates occurring on the Web could not occur without communities
o David Held – “a process (or set of processes) which embodies a transformation in the spatial organisations of social relations and transactions, generating transcontinental or interregional flows and networks of activity, interaction and power”
o Basic terms, it is seen as a set of processes rather than any final state.
• Post industrialisation
o Western societies witness a decline in the authority of traditional institutions, individuals retreat further into their own private spheres, becoming less obviously politically engaged in the sense of participating in the large-scale structures of liberal democracy
o The way the web is generating new, more efficient forms of social control
o Refers to a set of ideas which inspired the emergence of rules-based organisations that generally require individual adherence to formal rules rather than the expression of emotion or creativity
o A dominant force in contemporary life
o Power struggles can no longer understood by a narrow focus on the core execution and the traditional institutions of central government
The state has changed
o Governance covers the whole range of institutions and relationships involved in the process of governing
o Main question is “how the centre of government interacts with society to reach mutually acceptable decisions, or whether society actually does more self-steering rather than depending upon guidance from government” (Peters)
o Advocates the maximisation of the individuals liberty in thought and action and the minimisation or even abolition of the state
o Many see this as the default ideology of the Web
These eight key themes draw upon sociology political science, business, management, and all have one aspect in common, which is to arrive at a richer conceptual understanding of the impact of the Web.
Part 2 will conclude with looking at Community, Deliberation and participation, including disucssion on Social Capital and Public Sphere.
In terms of the psychology aspect of the topic, one of the more fundamental traits of theories of personality is the realisation and enactment of central traits. Galen was the first person to examine the issue of personality and the way in which it is formed and according to him the individual was made up of four different chambers and the extent to which these chambers interacted with one another represented the way in which the individual’s personality was formed.
The theory now reads that people cannot be put into discrete categories that they neatly fall into and instead everybody has some traits and the personality is made up of the degree to which those traits are exposed. What has been noted is that people react differently in different types of situations, so where in one types of situation you have a particular trait in any other situation, another trait becomes more expressive and dominant and as a result your perceived personality changes.
Identification of Personality Traits
There have been a number of theories of the identification of personality traits one of which was Allport’s Search for Traits where essentially Allport found people with a particular trait react similarly across situations because they experience a unique sense of similarity across those situations that guides their feelings, behaviours and thoughts. It is interesting when you relate this to the web and our usage of the web. With the web our ability to interact with people like minded with us has increased; you can now find those people that you share things in common with that you could not have found pre the web. The fact that the web gives us so much more choice just in the field of say entertainment alone is example of this.
In this sense the identification and deployment of personality trait can be far greater than it has in the past with us being able to find people in more ways tan previously and as a result the ability to build relations with others is far greater on the web than it can be otherwise.
Another aspect that he highlighted were cardinal traits; those traits that experienced a strong unifying influence on a person’s behaviour. He believed that these traits were rare in people but that when they did appear that these would help to get the person and have them stand out of the crowd, for example Hitler. If you relate this to the Web it is interesting because in theory the web seems to provide individuals with greater ability to take heed of their wants and wishes and that as a result. In theory therefore what we should expect is more people expressing their cardinal traits and standing out from the crowd. By proxy however it could also be suggested that with more people being out in the public domain and being visible to others that you will not stand out from the crowd. The fact that the web allows everyone to be able to express themselves and broadcast themselves would suggest that actually people would not be able to stand out in the way that they do otherwise.
Eysenck 3 Factors
Eysenck highlighted three factors that he felt were the key in developing the person; extroversion, neurotisicism and psychoticism. He argued that in general a person’s personality in determined by these 3 factors and the way in which they interact with each other in the same way that a combination of the three primary colours leads to the creation of any other colours.
The 5 Factor Model
This model presupposes that the personality is composed of five areas: neuroticism, extroversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness. A body of evidence suggests that there is a high degree of heritability in respect of the five factors involved. DeNeve and Cooper showed that the five factors could be used to predict subjective well being in a person’s personality and Vollrath found that there was moderate predictability to responses to daily hassles of people’s lives.
It is interesting when you see these five factors and the way in which they interact with one another and the way in which when you are on the web, you can be a different person and as a result your level of openness and agreeableness for sure can be determined by what you want.
In respect of the sociological research one of the more interesting things that I have found has been the theory of symbolic interactionism with Goffmann going against this and suggesting that our lives are made up of ‘performances’; we put on a performance with different roles when we are put in front of audiences when in different occasions. He highlighted that there was a difference between the backstage area (where nobody gets to see) and the performance area.
I would suggest that actually the web allows for amore interesting way to see this differentiation. The screen is almost that boundary or performance stage behind which you are in the prepatory area with the screen being the stage on which you perform. In turn the greater exposure allows you to carry out your performance to a greater number of persons than before because of its wider reach and therefore you have to playa a lot more persons.
He highlighted that there was a key difference in the performance that you give in real life and that on the stage; in the latter every word has to be perfect where as in the former you can allow for mistakes because interruptions re a part of everyday life. However on the web, this might seem at slight odds because as it might be seen a prepatory area it is not expected that everything that you do is flawless and perfect.