Received: by alpheratz.cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk id FAA26709 (8.6.9/5.3[ref firstname.lastname@example.org] for cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk from email@example.com); Wed, 3 Oct 2001 05:13:37 +0100 From: <AaronLynch@aol.com> Message-ID: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: Wed, 3 Oct 2001 00:09:00 EDT Subject: Re: Copycat Terrorism: JoM Paper To: email@example.com Content-Type: text/plain; charset="US-ASCII" Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit X-Mailer: AOL 4.0 for Windows 95 sub 113 Sender: firstname.lastname@example.org Precedence: bulk Reply-To: email@example.com
I agree with the basic thesis that the publicity is likely to cause copycat
hijackings and attacks, as well as attempts. The media coverage both spreads
the bad ideas and reinforces them with the attention terrorists seek.
The matter of how best to handle it, however, seems to be an open question.
It may well be that if some of the other attacks of recent years, such as the
embassy bombings in Africa, the attack on the USS Kohl, etc. were given
saturation media coverage, then there might have been more copying of acts on
similar scale. But terrorists might also not have felt that it was
"necessary" to go to something as big as the September 11 attack in order to
get the US public and the international community to really take notice. If
even the September 11 attacks had not brought massive media coverage, the
terrorists might have simply concluded that they needed to do something far
worse still, such as a nuclear, chemical, or biological attack.
As bad as September 11 was, jolting the US and international communities to
pay serious attention to terrorists may have been necessary to avert
something on the scale of thermonuclear truck bombs, etc. The US population
has a dangerously insular attitude that was amply illustrated by decisions
being made by George W. Bush. After the Clinton administration had signed a
treaty to secure 130 tons of Plutonium 239 that has been poorly guarded and
poorly inventoried in Russia, Bush had suspended the agreement and cut the
money the US had pledged. All apparently in service of the indulgent ideology
of "giving the American people back their tax money." (Never mind that the
USA is the world's largest debtor nation and should have been repaying loans
during prosperous times.) Maybe the US population and politicians will start
taking the matter of unsecured weapons of vast destruction seriously now.
Some analogy might be made to the fact that it took Pearl Harbor to jolt the
USA into doing its part in stopping the devastation begun by Hitler. Perhaps
all the media attention given to the "day of infamy" at Pearl Harbor
encouraged additional attacks against the USA in the early 1940s, but it also
mobilized the country to do something about a very real and serious threat.
If the event had been downplayed to the extent that the US did not enter
World War II, the world today would certainly be a far different place. Time
will tell whether the newly agitated and mobilized USA will do something
helpful this time, or whether it will somehow make matters worse.
So with the caveat against going to the opposite extreme of trying to
downplay the September 11 attack, I agree that media people should try to be
more careful than they have been in the way they report everything from
school shootings to big terrorist attacks.
Hague, A. 1983. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Building Thermonuclear Weapons.
New York: Grinning Idiot Press.
In a message dated 10/2/2001 12:33:45 PM Central Daylight Time,
> Subj: Copycat Terrorism: JoM Paper
> Date: 10/2/2001 12:33:45 PM Central Daylight Time
> From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Paul Marsden)
> Sender: email@example.com
> Reply-to: firstname.lastname@example.org
> To: email@example.com
> A short comment appears in the Journal of Memetics (copy below) warning of
> the risk of copycat terrorism following the recent terrorist attacks in New
> York and Washington. It makes the controversial point that the political
> and media reaction to the attacks has massively exacerbated the risk of
> copycat terrorism.
> Francis (Heylighen) has also forwarded me an interesting link to another
> paper by Robert T. Holden from Indiana University who has produced archival
> correlational evidence for the contagious spread of aircraft hijacks
> Copycat Terrorism: Fanning the Fire - By Paul Marsden -
> The political and media reaction to the recent terrorist attacks in the US
> could trigger a spate of copycat terrorism. This would be the warning from
> the body of research known as contagion psychology, the science of copycat
> phenomena ranging from infectious yawning and laughter, through consumer
> fads, fashions, and crazes, to the more serious contagions of eating
> disorders, suicide, hysteria, violence, and even murder (Marsden 2000a).
> Why should we expect our reaction to the recent disaster to trigger copycat
> terrorism? Firstly, there is a chilling precedent. Twenty tears of US data
> show that airplane crashes, some thought to be suicides involving the
> deliberate killing of others, rise systematically and unexpectedly
> media publicity of other of these 'murder-suicide' stories (Phillips 1980).
> More worryingly, the amount of media coverage devoted to these events, by
> television networks and newspapers, correlates positively with the rise in
> subsequent `copycat' events. This is darkly consistent with the substantial
> body of evidence for suicide contagion - the idea that suicides beget
> suicide (Marsden 2000b).
> Secondly, copycat terrorism makes compelling sense when we understand the
> simple but deadly psychology of contagion. A phenomenon of `disinhibition'
> can occur when suicidal or murderous thoughts - inhibited by conscience,
> uncertainty or fear - are exposed to what is perceived as the positive
> consequences of suicide or murder. When this happens, the mental conflict
> between urges and inhibitions may be resolved, resulting in a suicidal and
> possibly murderous mind being made up. Thought is free to become deadly
> action. With a perverse irony, the global attention and blanket media
> coverage accorded the U.S. terrorist attacks may actually help make up some
> desperate minds and legitimise future murder-suicides.
> So how can the risk of copycat terrorism involving murder-suicides be
> reduced? Blanket censorship is obviously not a realistic option in a free
> and democratic society. However, our reaction to such events could be
> usefully informed by the practical and realistic recommendations of the US
> CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and similar organisations
> on how to contain and reduce the risk of contagion involving suicide (CDC
> - Avoid presenting the event as an accomplishment; for example, do not use
> the term 'successful'
> - Avoid repetitious or excessive reporting of the event
> - Avoid sensationalising the event
> - Avoid `how-to' descriptions of the event
> - Avoid portraying the event as painless for those responsible
> - Avoid presenting simplistic explanations for the event
> - Avoid glorifying the event or those responsible for it
> - Avoid giving a positive rationale for those responsible for the event
> A quick glance at these recommendations reveals that each and everyone has
> been violated by politicians and media alike in recent days: Repetitious
> sensationalised accounts of an event portrayed as horribly effective in aim
> and simple in explanation. As a consequence of our own reactions, borne
> perhaps of a voyeuristic and morbid fascination for disaster, we may have
> increased the likelihood of copycat terrorism. The equally sensationalist
> accounts of a possible war may only serve to exacerbate this risk. Of
> course, there is an urgent need to discuss how we tackle terrorism in a
> world where technology and connectivity allows tiny minorities massive
> leverage, but perhaps it is now time for a qualitative shift away from the
> sensationalist coverage of the `what', `where', `when' and `who', and
> towards a more informed discussion of the `why'. Only by understanding the
> situation that led to the attacks can we hope to move towards an informed
> solution that may help prevent them from occurring again.
> CDC (1994) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. `Suicide Contagion
> and the Reporting of Suicide: Recommendations form a National Workshop'.
> Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Review, 43, (RR-6).
> Marsden, P. (2000a) `Mental epidemics' New Scientist, 2237, 46-47.
> Marsden, P. (2000b) The Werther Effect: Suicide Contagion - A Critical
> Evaluation, Theoretical Reconceptualisation and Empirical Investigation
> Doctoral Thesis - University of Sussex University of Sussex. Available at
> Phillips, D. P., (1980). `Airplane accidents, murder, and the mass media:
> Towards a theory of imitation and suggestion'. Social Forces, 58(4),
> Dr Paul Marsden
> tel: +44 (0) 777 95 77 248
> email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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