Saturday, March 2, 2019

GateHouse: Social media drives fear of crime

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
March 1, 2019
The good news this week, in the midst of a convicted felon accusing the President of the United States of essentially running a criminal enterprise, is that crime is down in this country - with maybe the exception of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Statistics released this week by the FBI revealed overall declines in the number of violent crimes and property crimes reported for the first six months of 2018 when compared with the first six months of 2017.
The Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report is based on information from nearly 15,000 law enforcement agencies from across the country. Violent crime is down dramatically from its high in the early 1990s. The most recent decline merely emphasizes that America’s streets are as safe as they have been in decades.
Drilling down on the FBI stats reveals that three of the offenses in the violent crime category - robbery, murder, and aggravated assault - showed decreases when data from the first six months of 2018 were compared with data from the first six months of 2017.
The number of robbery offenses decreased 12.5 percent, murder fell 6.7 percent, and aggravated assault is down 2 percent.
In addition, the overall number of violent crimes decreased in cities of all sizes. Law enforcement agencies in cities with populations of 1,000,000 and over decreased 2.8 percent.
Those numbers don’t seem to jibe with President Donald Trump’s declaration in his inaugural address that violent crime was experiencing its largest increase in nearly half a century and that the carnage must stop, “right here and now.”
The president’s continued rhetoric on the border “emergency” and the imminent threat to public safety posed by undocumented immigrants leads many Americans to believe that violence is out of control.
According to Politico, the decline in violent crime is so great that criminologists routinely refer to the period after the 1990s as “the great crime decline.” Annual homicide rates were about the same in 2016 as they were in 1960. Property crimes are lower than at any point since the 1960s.
Although violent crime rates continue to fall people are still afraid - why?
It has long been established that people who watch a lot of television tend to be more afraid of crime. A study released in December 2017 updates this phenomenon for the digital age. The study found that, for many people, time spent on social media appears to similarly heighten fears of being a crime victim, reported the Pacific Standard.
“Our results suggest that overall social media consumption plays an important role in increasing fear among young adults,” researcher Jonathan Intravia of Ball State University wrote in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
Another recent study dispelled the notion of “dangerous neighborhoods.” According to CityLab, research found that around half of all crime complaints or incidents of gun violence are concentrated in about five percent of streets or blocks in a given city.
The rhetoric of fear, especially the politically expedient rants about crime and immigration - some of which appears to be generated from outside of the country - contributes to the finding that “overall social media consumption is significantly related to individuals’ fear of crime.”
Importantly, the researchers found social media usage raised fear levels mainly among those who generally feel safe in their neighborhood. According to Pacific Standard, this supports the idea that “media consumption may have stronger effects for individuals without personal experiences with crime and violence.”
Fear of crime is being driven by what we see and read not necessarily what we experience.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
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