The Exaggeration of Violent and Sexual Crimes in the Media

Content analysis shows that the media exaggerate the extent of violent and sexual crimes, with over-reporting of such crimes giving us the impression that there is 10 times more of it than is actually the case according to sources such as the Crime Survey of England and Wales.

This blog post summarises some recent evidence demonstrating how the media exaggerate the extent of violent crimes and the extent to which they do this.

This should be a useful update for students studying both the Crime and Deviance and Media options as part of A-level sociology.

Violent Crime is exaggerated 10 times

Harper & Hogue (2016) found that in the UK sex offenses made up 20% of all crime reported by the media, but only 2% of all crimes were sex offences. So that’s an exaggeration by the media of 10 times the actual rate of crime. (Source.)

Twitter exaggerates the extent of violent Crime just as much as the mainstream media

An analysis of 32 million tweets in 17 countries in Latin America over 70 days in 2017 revealed that 15 out of 1000 were crime related.

The number of tweets about crime were then compared to the murder rates in those countries and the fear of crime as measured by surveys.

There was no correlation between the number of tweets about crime and the underlying crime rate.

Moreover, just like the mainstream media, tweets showed a ‘strong bias’ towards sharing information about violent and sexual crimes.

The study also found that 62% of accounts were linked to mainstream media accounts, meaning that only 38% of tweets were from regular users, many of which linked articles from mainstream media.

This suggests that Twitter is just an echo chamber for the exaggeration of violent crime in the media.

Latin America – people tweet a lot about Violent Crime, they are doing it to themselves!

One BIG STORY makes it worse…

One ‘big story’ can trigger an increase in similar stories. For example, Harper (2018) found that there was 300% increase in reporting of sex crimes against children when the news about prolific paedophile (and friend of Prince Andrew) Jimmy Saville broke in YEAR. (Source.)

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