Conflict Exaggeration In The News

In the article, “Why Are We Fascinated with Violence? An Investigation of Mass Media’s Role in Depicting Violence as Entertainment,” Kseniya I. Dmitrieva argues that humanity has an incessant need for conflict. By overrepresenting crime and violence, Dmitrieva writes that news organizations make a “strategic move” to increase their viewership “by catering to the public’s fascination with rare and sensational acts of violence.” Thanks to a phenomenon known as the negativity bias, humans’ underlying psychology pulls us to read and watch news that is negative.

The aim of the news is to accurately report factually correct information to viewers. However, conflict reporting is done differently than other types of news, which often leaves it distorted. Distortions allow news organizations to exaggerate conflict in order to attract more viewers and generate more revenue. Whether the conflict of war is made to show humanity’s inherent struggle between good and evil or shaped into a story of adversity and heroism, news organizations frame and exaggerate conflict to fit specific narratives. These typically follow like a three-act play: a conflict begins, rages, and ends, with its resolution becoming the forefront of the story. No matter how dystopian or gruesome the reality might be, the stories attract us with our negativity bias, then leave us feeling fulfilled, with a sense of pride and high levels of dopamine.

News organizations manipulate their stories to capitalize on this function of our brain chemistry. Viewers are more likely to engage with distorted stories of violence and conflict, and therefore will see more advertisements and create more revenue for the company.

Is this ethical?

Accessible, current news reports are a human right. Conflict is ever-present, and we have a right to know what is happening in current events. The graphic imagery these organizations use to report on conflict promotes the negativity bias, and, in many circumstances, accompanies commentary that exaggerates the news, but often this imagery is the only kind available. During a conflict, journalists’ placement and safety can affect which images can be captured. On the other hand, perhaps these images were simply chosen because they attract viewers and provide revenue for the company. However, many organizations must rely on this practice to generate revenue, either because they do not earn enough public funding or because they are completely privately funded. In this instance, despite our right to accurate and factual news, we are served distorted content because it is how news organizations are able to stay in business.

People are attracted to chaos. Our human nature dictates that we are interested in situations of tension and conflict. However, when news funding is predominantly dictated through viewership, this influences how the news is reported. As a consequence of how media is funded in New Zealand and other countries, conflict in the news is exaggerated to take advantage of the human psyche’s attraction to violence.

Sophie Simons
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