Mass media is the means of communicating with large sections of society using newspapers, magazines, radio, television, films, the internet and any other communication tools. In today’s wired world, mass media is all-pervasive and available round the clock, making it a potent phenomenon, which has far-reaching effects on society covering social, ethical, political and psychological aspects of human affairs. Mass media reportedly also has significant effect on criminal behavior and this essay examines the main aspects of mass media and its effects on crime.
Mass media has many purposes. It can be used to propagate business, politics, sports, entertainment, philosophy, religion almost every type of human activity. Because of its widespread appeal and reach, mass media can be manipulated to produce mass culture, which can give rise to a “uni-dimensional society” where people buy what the television tells them (Bessant Judith, 2007, p. 53). American college students today spend almost six hours immersed in mass media, far more than what they spend studying, which according to sociologists is enough to shape character (Wells & Hakanen, 1997, p. 5). Mass media seeks to influence its viewers both consciously as well as subconsciously. The repetitive nature of mass media also has a desensitizing effect on the society. Thus, if mass media reinforces negative human traits such as glorifying violence, rape, murder, the concomitant effect on the impressionable youth can only be deleterious. Since violence, sex and crime stories sell better, these proliferate which only serve to destroy the value systems of youth watching them (Jacobs, 1992, p. 210).
From a sociological point of view, the effects of mass media have been likened to a hypodermic syringe wherein the ‘drug’ injected has a direct effect on behavior (Marsh & Melville, 2009, p. 15). Though the hypodermic syringe model could not be conclusively proven, it is undoubted that media can have mass effects such as nationwide panic triggered by Orson Welles’s famous ’ Invasion from Mars’ broadcast in 1938. Sociologists have indicated that depiction of violence does increase negativity in the behavior of those individuals who have had previous exposure to criminality (Quinney, 2001, p. 285). Research has also indicated that there has been an increase in lethal violence over a span of 15 years that is linked to the increase in television ownership (Zimring & Hawkins, 1999, p. 132). However, sociologists also point to the fact that the prevalence of crime is more linked to socio-economic factors rather than a direct correlation of mass media’s effect on behavior. The internet has added a new dimension to criminology as Pedophiles use the net to ‘groom’ their young victims to seduce them or entice them to carry out acts of sex and violence (Bocij, 2004, p. 118).
In conclusion, it can be reiterated that mass media indeed has a great effect in shaping society’s choices, opinions and behavior. The accusation that mass media is responsible for increase in criminal behavior worldwide is not substantiated adequately though some evidence does suggest that those previously exposed to violence may show more negative behavior when exposed to negative mass media. New age mass media such as the internet have undoubtedly provided greater avenues for criminals such as pedophiles to entice young people. Overall, though mass media has great effects, it is the socio-economic factor that increases criminality in society rather than just the effect of mass media.
Bessant Judith, W. R. (2007). Sociology Australia. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
Bocij, P. (2004). Cyberstalking: Harassment in the Internet Age and How to Protect Your Family. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing.
Jacobs, N. (1992). Mass Media in Modern Society. NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Marsh, I., & Melville, G. (2009). Crime, Justice and the Media. NY: Taylor & Francis.
Quinney, R. (2001). The Social Reality of Crime. N: Transaction Publishers.
Wells, A., & Hakanen, E. A. (1997). Mass Media & Society. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing.
Zimring, F. E., & Hawkins, G. (1999). Crime is not the Problem: Lethal Violence in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.