In play in shaping people’s perceptions of crime

In addition (Olson 2004) also looks at the media and how it negatively influences society; shaping the view that crime is somewhat glorified in the form of online/ video games.  The article discusses media, youth and, violence; it identifies the nature of violent video games and how these contribute to ‘society’s ills’.  It links to violent behaviour with shootings in America used as an example. It suggests how the ‘youth’ get ‘brainwashed’ due to ‘playing video games with sniper shooting modes such as Halo,’ this can result in behaviours relating to crime and violence. This inevitably raises concerns of controversy surrounding the media and what should be acceptable and what not.


Furthermore, it is important to recognise the nature of the audiences consuming certain content- in particular, a young audience and their exposure to violent, harmful behaviour. Through experimentation, psychologist Albert Bandura created an Observational Learning theory that looked at the impact violent television and video had on a young audience. It identified that ‘children observe the people around them behaving in various ways’ (Bandura, 1961). Children at a young age are vulnerable to their surroundings and this theory looks at how children imitate behavior they observe. Therefore this can be potentially dangerous if violent behavior taken from the media is reproduced. However, it can also be noted that the media can be used to positively shape behaviour. Using this theory, if a child sees something positive and considered acceptable; copying this behaviour could be beneficial. It can also be identified that whilst exposing people to violent behaviour, through them media doing so, it allows the association of behaviour to be deemed as unacceptable. This relates to the idea of labeling; allowing people to identify actions within the media as a ‘harmful, deviant and criminal’ (Newburn 2017). Therefore it can be said that the media have a role to play in shaping people’s perceptions of crime and harm with positive intentions- to educate and inform.

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Leading on from this, arguably there is growing concern surrounding the concept of copycat crimes and how the media contributes to this.  The media often sensationalises crimes, and the concept of a copycat crime is the imitation of another crime.


‘Contemporary copycat crimes have been credited to news media coverage of workplace violence, product tampering, hate crime, mass murder, airline hijacking, and terrorism and fictional portrayals of robbery, murder, arson, carjacking, and rape (Helfgott, 2015, p. 51).’


An example of copycat crime is the 2014 case of a seventeen- year old boy who reportedly ‘stabbed his girlfriend to death’ as he ‘idolised fictional TV character Dexter’ that plays a serial killer and was inspired by the character’s actions on screen, (Eleftheriou-Smith, 2014). This draws on the idea that the media influences crime and harm, evidently, in this case, violent behaviour. It particularly emphasises the influence media has on young people. However, it can be noted that whilst to some extent the media is responsible for the copycat killing, the murderous activity involved other factors relating to the individual’s mental health.


Views on crime and harm are affected by the ways in which the media present certain information and ideas. It can be argued that to an extent the media extort, exaggerate and over-represent particular crimes. As a result of this, the media is responsible for shaping views on crime and harm.


‘The media present crime stories both factual and fictional in ways which selectively distort and manipulate public perceptions, creating false perception of crime, which promotes stereotyping, bias, prejudice and gross oversimplification of the facts.’ (Jewkes 2004)


This looks into the idea that the media are responsible for the portrayal of particular crimes in an inaccurate way making them fuel ‘public fears,’ (Jewkes 2012). Sexual and violent crimes are often reported in the media. However, it can be recognised that ‘all media appear to exaggerate the extent of violent crime in Britain, (Newburn 2017). Ditton and Duffy (1983) found an example of over-representation of violent crimes as 46% of reports by the media were regarding sexual and violent crimes whereas the police had only reported 3%. This shows the media looking to draw attention to sexual and violent crimes and this could be due to the attention these specific crimes would have compared to others. This can also lead to questions regarding the effects of placing certain stories in the public eye on people’s perceptions of crime and harm.


Subject to this is the creation of fear within the public as a response to the media. Exposure to violent media has also been found to contribute to the development of the “mean world syndrome” — a view of the world as more hostile and dangerous than it actually is (Gerbner, 1994). This can lead to identifying threats within society as well as suggesting that due to media’s exaggeration of violence and crime, perceptions of crime and harm are not realistic and are instead distorted. This also links to what Reiner (2007) mentions how the media mainly focuses and portrays violence in the ‘worst cases.’ This relates to media’s over-reporting violent and sexual cases as well as the exaggeration is used to entertain and captivate an audience- not just inform.