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Terrorism and the copycat effect
A new study says the more the media covers terrorism, the more we inspire copycat attacks. What's at work? Is it a conscious plan by terrorists or the psychological phenomenon known as the Werther effect?
The conclusion of the study is clear: Through our daily coverage of news events, we journalists have the power to decide over the lives of others. Or to be precise: Our articles and reports can kill.
Most often it's with reports about terrorist attacks, with pictures of the victims and the perpetrators, speculation about motives, background analysis, emotive language - and all this, preferably, on the front page.
Michael Jetter, an economics specialist at the University of Western Australia in Perth, has been researching the relationship between the media and terrorism. Jetter's recently published study involves 61,000 acts of terrorism in 200 countries, ranging from the years 1970 to 2012, and the coverage of those events in the US daily newspaper The New York Times.
The results suggest a correlation between the number of attacks and the intensity of the media coverage - to the extent that every new report about an attack increases the number of attacks in the following week by 1.4 times.
Is that really possible?
Jetter says his test proves it: "You see it on days when the coverage is about a hurricane and not about al Qaeda, that there are fewer attacks in the following week."
And it could be down to simple psychology.