New Technology, Fear, and the Priming Effect
There is perhaps no more frightening an image to today’s parents of pre-teen and teenage children in the U.S. than that of the internet predator. A lone adult man siting behind a computer screen in a darkened room lures the innocent child into an unsafe situation. But is this just an image – a bogeyman created by the media? Shows like NBC’s To Catch A Predator certainly increase concerns. Although old shows still continue to be aired, this program is no longer being produced, mainly due to controversy over a lawsuit filed by a family of a man who shot and killed himself in the course of an episode taping. Yet local evening news coverage of this issue continues, and is definitely out of proportion to how often it actually occurs.
The “Priming Effect” – which seems to show that the more people see a particular social problem covered in the media, the more serious and prevalent they believe it to be – could be one possible explanation for parent’s fears. In fact, a recent study by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University showed that, while threats to children from adults do exist on the internet, kids are vastly more likely to be harassed by their peers – just like in real life. South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster and others say the study underestimates the threat, and fault it for using unreliable data. They say that technology is changing faster then law enforcement can protect children from it. The undercurrent of the fear of technology is embodied by society as the fear of the stranger with bad intent.
The Priming Effect