The media has a profound effect to shift concentration, and the recent media attention on guns could have contributed to reports of potential gunmen on Ball State’s and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis’ campuses.
“The media shows people where to focus their attention,” Melinda Messineo, Department of Sociology chair, said. “When stories or trends are popular they heighten awareness.”
When something like mass shootings are the focus of several media stories, it changes the perceptions of actions that would otherwise be ignored, Messineo. People then look for activities that seem malicious because they are looking to protect themselves from a supposed threat.
Seven mass killings in 2012 had more than four victims in a single location, with a total of 138 people injured, which could lead to an unhealthy fixation on gun violence when reports of mass shooting saturate the media, Messineo said.
Sophomore exercise science major Ashton Freeman said he abstains from watching television news because he believes it leads to hysteria.
“I don’t want to get caught up in the overreaction,” he said.
Freeman said his mother becomes concerned based on television news stories over events he doesn’t think should be a big deal.
“She will talk to me and be really concerned saying, ‘Oh my gosh, they are talking about this,’ or whatever, like the snow two days ago, and I have to tell her, ‘No, Mom, it’s going to be OK. We have had snow before,’” he said.
Messineo said one example of overconcern is when a couple of incidents of Halloween candy tampering led to nationwide hysteria.
Several news organizations picked up the story, which led to a saturation of stories urging parents to be on the lookout for potential signs of tampering, Messineo said.
“After the blast of news stories there were campaigns and concerns, even myths, based on these few accounts of children being harmed through Halloween candy,” she said. “Turns out it was not prominent at all, but parents were scared and now saw a torn candy wrapper or misshaped candy as a threat.”
Messineo said people need to be aware of their ability to allow the media to change their perception of actions but that doesn’t mean they should allow real threats to go undocumented.
Gene Burton, director of Public Safety, said he does believes there is a heightened sense of awareness on campus.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we had more calls like this because, quite frankly, people are more aware,” Burton said. “Not that you want to make anyone paranoid, but any time you can take an active role in your safety it’s a plus.”
Burton said when there is an incident at another college campus, it is prudent to look at how it would be handled if it happened at Ball State.
“We are always planning. If you see something, do not hesitate to call,” he said. “We are always working to make sure we have the most professional response possible.”
Messineo said one of the most interesting things about the recent violent acts is why the media focuses on certain actions and not others.
“Things like this get on the radar when you don’t expect the victims to be victims of violence, like children in school,” she said.
Messineo said there are several murders and crimes every day, most of which don’t make it to the evening news, but others are all the public hears about for weeks, and this can lead to a complacency with violence.
“How do we become complacent for the violence we see when we expect it?” Messineo said. “Why are we not questioning all of the violence in the world, instead of just the acts the media highlights?”
Devan Filchak contributed to this story.