The Issue With the 24-Hour News Cycle and Confirmation Bias

This past week, a story came out about a 14-year-old student who murdered his math teacher at his high school after she asked him to stay after school for detention.  The boy allegedly followed her into the bathroom, killed her, and then hid her body in a trash can that he wheeled out into the woods.  This is obviously an incredibly tragic event.  The reaction among the public has mirrored the fact that this is an incredibly tragic event, as the story has brought about comments of “What is the world coming to?” and “What is wrong with people these days?” that all tragic events seem to bring.  Not only do I feel these comments tend to undermine the respect that should be given to the victim’s family, but I also think they come from a flawed point-of-view.

The answer to “what is wrong with people these days?” is likely, “the same thing that’s always been wrong with people”.  Crimes like these are committed for any number of reasons, from mental illness to extreme emotional outbursts.  The fact of the matter is, there’s no consistent trend indicating that these terrible crimes are happening any more often than they have in the past; in fact, there’s a number of statistics in many major cities that indicate violent crimes have been trending down over the past few decades.  The perception that there’s a flurry of such incidents comes entirely from the 24-hour news cycle, and the ever-increasing amount of technology in our lives.  Hearing about such tragic news events throughout the day and having them analyzed to the most minute detail leads to the idea that these crimes happen more often than they actually do.  There’s also the fact that negative news stories tend to “sell” much more than positive news stories for that very reason.  The negative news stories invoke a more extreme emotional reaction from the viewer than positive news stories do, and thus networks and news outlets are going to spend more time talking about such things.

That said, just because violent crimes trend down doesn’t mean society shouldn’t always be looking for more ways to curb such things happening.  There is value to be gleaned from discussion about what causes people to do these things.  The tragedy of what happened to the victim in this crime should just never be lost in such discussions as another one of the minute details of the story.

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