Last night I received a text from my mom wondering if we should attend the Bruno Mars concert coming up in November. I bought tickets for her birthday this year and we have been excited about attending. What brought on this sudden second guessing? The news coverage of the mass shooting in Las Vegas of course! What happened in Vegas was truly horrible and many are now second guessing how safe it is to attend concerts and other events. While I scrolled through my news feed and perused Facebook, my friends wondered in their posts how such a horrific event could happen. As expected, proponents for tighter gun laws have been in the news which has started a lively debate in my Facebook feed. This post is not about my political views on gun laws, nor is it intended to downplay what has happened. My heart truly goes out to everyone affected. My aim is to bring to light some food for thought as we all absorb the events and news coverage.
The likeliness of being killed in a homicide by a firearm is relatively low compared to other potential causes of death. In 2014 there were 11,008 homicide deaths from a firearm in the U.S. This translates to 3.5 people out of 100,000 or a 0.0035% chance (CDC, 2017). However, firearm homicides are dwarfed in comparison to the top 10 causes of death in 2016 which are as follows:
- Heart disease: 633,842
- Cancer: 595,930
- Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 155,041
- Accidents (unintentional injuries): 146,571
- Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 140,323
- Alzheimer’s disease: 110,561
- Diabetes: 79,535
- Influenza and pneumonia: 57,062
- Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 49,959
- Intentional self-harm (suicide): 44,193 (CDC, 2017)
Looking at the numbers, we should all be more concerned about lifestyles and choices that directly contribute to heart disease and cancer. So why aren’t stories about the leading causes of death receiving the same amount of media coverage? Because media’s #1 job is to create audiences and anything sensational or out of the ordinary does the best job attracting attention (it is like trying to pass a car crash on the freeway and not look). However, creating audiences is much more hyper targeted than it used to be. News Media companies collect personally identifiable information on our viewing and reading habits through cookies, device IDs and set-top box data to name a few. This data collected is then utilized so they can sell their advertisers the best target audiences across their platforms. For example, Apple’s algorithms know I have recently been following hurricanes since I was in Florida right before Irma. On October 3rd in the “For You” section, there was an article from the Miami Herald about the tropical depression moving towards the Caribbean. Right below that article, an advertisement from Wells Fargo (my bank) was strategically placed. Wells Fargo has my personal information and so does Apple, so they can leverage an intermediary to anonymize and match my data between the companies while remaining privacy compliant. From there my anonymized information is leveraged enabling Wells Fargo to strategically target their advertisement in my Apple news feed. Because the targeting is more precise to the audience, Wells Fargo in theory sees a lift in their ROI and Apple commands higher advertising rates.
While media uses sensational headlines and stories to gain more of our attention, the bad news in the media affects our stress levels. A study on news coverage from the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings increased “acute stress” in students at other universities who followed the happenings in the news media. Furthermore, the more news media on the subject consumed the higher the probability the students would respond with higher degrees of stress symptomology (Fallahi & Lesik, 2009). Constant news negativity can exacerbate our own feelings of sadness and anxiety as well as the severity of how we perceive our own situation (Davey, 2012). A big dose of negative news daily can certainly send me into a spin of constant mobile device checking for updates and an overall pessimistic view that day.
Does this mean we should all turn off the news and not pay attention to what is going on in the world? Of course not, as the news media plays a positive role in society as well. We just all need to remember that News Media’s first priority is to create audiences and react accordingly.
CDC. (2017, March 17). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Assault or Homicide. Retrieved October 6, 2017, from National Center for Health Statistics: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/homicide.htm
CDC. (2017, March 17). National Center for Health Statistics Leading Causes of Death. Retrieved October 2017, 2017, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm
Davey, G. (2012). Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/why-we-worry/201206/the-psychological-effects-tv-news
Fallahi, C. R., & Lesik, S. A. (2009). The effects of vicarious exposure to the recent massacre at Virginia Tech. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy, 1(3), 220-230. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0015052