Comment writer Antonia Miles argues that social media provides a platform for terrorism fear-mongering amongst a younger generation
A recent marketing research report released by Childwise, a company which studies media use among children and young people, showed that more than 2/3 of 11-16 year olds are scared about the threat of violence from terrorism. If that thought doesn’t make you uncomfortable enough, the study also showed that terrorism was seen by young people as a bigger worry than bullying and getting a job, the latter two representing far more familiar facets of my own adolescent experience. The report’s findings have really troubled me, not least because the threat of a terror attack or indeed what to do in the case of a terror attack (as some primary and secondary school are now preparing students for) never even crossed my mind at school.
The young people interviewed as part of the study asserted that it was the ‘randomness’ of the attacks which worried them the most. I certainly remember how I felt when news of the Manchester Arena bombing surfaced a year ago, horrified to learn that the attack took place at an Ariana Grande concert of all the unexpected places. Among those killed in the bombing were children as young as eight years old and the guardians of fans who were too young to attend the concert alone. It really hit home that terrorism does not discriminate in who it harms. The attack showed society that terrorism was no longer some kind of distant possibility, although I think young people were particularly shaken up by this revelation. After all, if the largely teenage population of Ariana Grande’s fan base of ‘Arianators’ as they are nicknamed could be targeted, so too could anybody, anywhere at any time.
In terror attacks and mass shootings, terrorists use fear as a weapon to activate a fear of the unknown, destabilising how we feel in places which we have always assumed to be safe. It’s only natural for the media to report extensively in light of any terrorist attack. But we have been hijacked by the constant and relentless barrage of terror coverage on the news and the fear this generates. Many young people are active social media users and quite often, on multiple social media sites. For many of us, social media use is synonymous with our free time, our relaxation time and our down time, so flicking through our newsfeeds up to several times a day has become pretty routine. We check-in on the world of social media on a train ride, on a five minute break in-between lectures or in the evenings before bed. And that’s the crux of the problem. This relentless barrage of negative coverage is impossible to escape from in our tech-driven lives.
I have certainly found myself to be guilty of refreshing the Fab & Fresh page up to several times a day in light of the recent crime wave to affect Selly Oak, desperately checking for any updates and worse yet, even anticipating bad news; another break in, another assault, another frightening encounter on the familiar streets of Selly Oak. But this barrage of relentless negativity, be that of terror attack coverage or of local crime, can really take its toll upon our mental health.
It’s no wonder that an overwhelming number of young people feel so anxious about terrorism. Rationality often escapes us when constantly confronted with this kind of exposure. I am not by any means suggesting that young people shouldn’t take an interest in the news or that they should completely turn a blind eye to negative headlines they come across. But the problem arises when the fear that this coverage generates begins to colour our views of the world and how we lead our daily lives. The aftermath of a terror attack and the consequent terror coverage this generates makes us feel vulnerable. But we can’t allow terrorists to continue to use fear as a weapon against society and more importantly, against our mental health.