How the Media’s Crime Stories Shape Our World

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Have you ever wondered how the reporting of a recent crime might reshape your worldview? How might your perception of reality change as you navigate social media feeds? You’ve arrived at an intriguing crossroads of media, crime, and reality. Hold tight; your outlook on your subsequent Netflix marathons may be about to shift!


Consider the allure of Hollywood, where an exciting crime story or nail-biting mystery becomes our escapism. Here’s food for thought: Might the boundary between this fictitious crime universe and our real world blur over time? Research by Bushman and Huesmann posits that consuming violent content nudges our perception, causing us to see the world as more perilous than it is. Moreover, a phenomenon known as ‘Mean World Syndrome’ implies that frequent consumption of such material might cause us to perceive the world as terrifying (Gerbner et al., 2002). That’s a dramatic impact.


One would expect news broadcasts to be where reality is bare and unfiltered. Yet, that’s not always so. News outlets concentrate on violent crimes to capture viewer attention, skewing our perception of reality (Gilliam & Iyengar, 2000). It’s similar to consuming spicy food only and believing all food shares the same fiery character!


Then there are the video games. They brim with conflict ranging from affable plumbers battling creatures to lifelike war scenarios. But what’s the implication for us? A meta-analytic review by Anderson et al. (2010) finds a robust correlation between exposure to violent video games and aggressive behavior.


This sometimes playful journey has a serious underpinning: media influences our perception of and reaction to our surroundings. Studies indicate that excessive violent media or crime news consumption can engender fear, even as crime rates decrease (Callanan, 2012). It’s like fearing a non-existent monster lurking under your bed.


So, one must ask what our defense could be against such manipulation. The answer, I believe, lies in awareness. We must understand that recognizing the media’s potential to distort our perceptions is a vital first step. Whenever you enjoy a crime drama or trawl through crime news, remind yourself this isn’t the complete picture of reality. 


It doesn’t take long to do some investigative work of our own, given the vastness of the internet. Seek balance and go beyond headlines. The truth can vary from publication to publication. The duty to uncover the truth lies with the media and us, the consumers. 


We must develop critical evaluation skills when consuming media to seek balance and investigate the headlines actively. Let us consider the following strategies: first, evaluate the credibility and reliability of sources by examining their expertise, reputation, and potential biases. Second, compare perspectives by seeking diverse viewpoints and analyzing different narratives on the same topic—finally, fact-check information using reputable fact-checking organizations or independent research. The internet is littered with pseudo-sociological research. A general rule of thumb: avoid [.com] when researching important theoretical perspectives.


We must remember that media literacy resources can empower people to navigate the complex landscape of media and crime. Media Literacy Now and the Center for Media Literacy offer valuable tools, educational materials, and workshops to enhance media literacy skills. These resources can assist individuals in developing a critical mindset, questioning narratives, and making informed judgments about the information they consume.


Michael J. Scott is a retired law enforcement executive who began his career in 1964 with a 3-year break to do his duty in the Army.

He has held various positions in law enforcement over a 35-year period. He obtained a Master’s Degree in human services and justice studies and has completed the requisite coursework for his Ph.D. Currently, he serves as an adjunct professor at Kent State University, teaching in the Department of Sociology and Criminology.

Professor Scott is an avid writer, working on several projects, including a novel set in a dystopian society. In his free time, he hangs out with his dogs and his camera.

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