The culture of fear and the attention economy

This video from a conference in New Zealand feature Microsoft Research professional Danah Boyd is, I think, a very important contribution to our understanding of our media and social media world.

Similar to the book “What is Happening to the News,” Ms. Boyd points out the connection between a supersaturated information world and the emergence of fear as the primary tool to break through the clutter. She says (approximate quote):”the more stimuli that competes for your attention, the more likely fear will drive your attention to them.”

Relating to my discussions on chemophobia, food safety, environmental disasters, brake problems on cars–there is a very strong built-in bias to create maximum fear by anyone who is competing for your attention. Headline writers whether they be from NYT, HuffPost or my blog, all work exceptionally hard to capture attention. You’ve got less than two seconds to do it. Viral video studies have shown that the key is visceral emotion–fear works wonders in that regard. So any journalist, editor, broadcaster, or blogger worth their salt is going to get very good at writing the headlines and focusing on those elements of a story that maximize the fear factor.

This is so significant for crisis communicators. When the TV cameras show up, when the reporter calls, when the blogger is digging up a story, what do they really need from you? They need something that will help them either create new fear or heighten existing fear. Yes, a generalization, but not such a broad one.

What does that mean for crisis communication? In short (and much more needs to be said on this): go direct to your audiences and two, be prepared to do all you can to counter the fear, uncertainty, dread and outrage that is the natural consequence of covering important stories today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>