The Denunciation Deficit
Some intriguing Psychology & Economics of the media from post-libertarian Joshua Hedland:
“If Muslims are peaceful, why don’t they condemn terrorism?”
This is a common question in some philosophical corners in response to headlines about attacks by radical Islamists.
After providing a long long list of Muslim condemnations of terrorism, Hedland explains the origin of the perceived denunciation deficit:
Denunciations about terrorist attacks face multiple handicaps. First.
people being killed tends to attract more attention than people
talking. The latter is less likely to be introduced as “breaking news”
or front-page headlines. Regardless of how prominently it is introduced,
it is less likely to propagate through clicks, shares, comments, and
Sometimes people talking about big events can attract more attention due to the connection to the big event. But a second
handicap is that Western media and its Western consumers tend to pay
more attention to Western people, especially those who are Important.
That’s how Obama not going to France – a non-event that would
normally register even less attention than Obama talking about something
– was apparently a bigger deal last week than hundreds or thousands of
Nigerians killed by Boko Haram. If dying Africans can’t compete with Obama’s travel plans, what hope do talking Arabs have?
A third handicap is that we tend to pay more
attention to events that elicit emotion than events that absorb emotion.
An article about someone condemning violence – if it finally manages to
make it past the other handicaps – is less likely to elicit much
reaction. Well, duh, denouncing violence is what we would expect any
normal person to do. Normal expectation satisfied, emotion absorbed, not
much impulse to share that story with others.
It can be simultaneously true that there are Muslims condemning violence
done in the name of Islam and that the efforts of those voices should
be increased. But I think people in good faith, if they really
want those moderate voices to be more successful, should not respond
with derision, but by recognizing the handicaps faced by those moderate
voices and helping them out by encouraging and amplifying their voices.
Wise advice despite my prescription for fighting statistical discrimination against your group.