SOCIAL MEDIA, TELEVISION, AND THE LAW ENFORCEMENT USE OF FORCE.
In a study currently pending peer review, researchers surveyed 93 participants to measure their baseline cynicism or “mistrust and lack of confidence” of physicians, professors, attorneys, and police. 92% of the test subjects were less than 25 years of age, 71% were female, and 63% African-American. Preliminary observations noted the participants “felt more negatively toward police than toward the other groups.”
The test subjects then viewed one of two versions of an actual video-recorded incident involving two police officers on the ground struggling with a male subject. In one distant cell phone version, a “Citizen Video Journalist” recorded the subject attempting to break free and posted the incident to YouTube. In that recording, the cameraman yelled to the subject, “Come on, guy! Quit moving, man! They’re gonna f***in’ kill you, bro. Quit moving!” Though the struggle continued, the recording ended after 36 seconds with no explanation provided about the circumstances of the police contact or the ultimate outcome.
The other recorded version was a 2:28 television newscast clip produced by professional television journalists at the local affiliate. Though the original cell phone recording was included in the story, the reporter also provided context and a police dashboard camera recording of the incident. It was learned the subject was initially contacted by the police following a traffic violation and was subsequently determined to be the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant. When the police officers attempted to handcuff the subject, he broke free and was then taken to the ground.
The test subjects then took the “cynicism test” a second time. In summary, the researchers found that “there was a difference in the severity of sanctions” considered appropriate for the police officers by the two groups. “The social media group opted for [significantly] more severe sanctions that did the mainstream media group,” confirming a significant difference in cynicism regarding police between the group that viewed the unfiltered social media posting and those who viewed the professional television broadcast. The baseline testing found the level of cynicism was nearly equal between the two viewing groups. However, after the test subjects viewed the two videos, the average level of cynicism and mistrust among the group viewing the social media recording significantly “increased, while the cynicism score for the broadcast media group decreased slightly” from their pre-viewing levels.
The researchers argue their study raises an important point in this era of “media exposure explosion,” advising content viewed by the public and the portrayal of law enforcement should not only consider delivery method, but the inclusion of information and context.
Does a partial social media video post of a law enforcement use of force provide the information required for an objective evaluation? Why, or why not? Should the same standard be applied to an investigation of a civilian criminal offense? Why, or why not?
Does a television news report of a law enforcement use of force provide the information required for an objective evaluation? Why, or why not? Should the same standard be applied to an investigation of a civilian criminal offense? Why, or why not?
Which is more important: publishing information quickly or publishing information accurately? Can publication be accomplished both quickly and accurately, or are they independent of each other? Do their respective approaches influence each other. If not, why? If so, how?
If the researchers in this study suggest that viewing a social media video post may influence the “cynicism” of the viewer towards a law enforcement action, would you suspect there may be a form reciprocal perception from law enforcement officers and others?
How can opinions developed from social media posts, television broadcasting, or other mass mediums influence perceptions, discussions, policy, and objective evaluation? Should the same standard be applied to an investigation of a civilian criminal offense? Why, or why not?
Browning, L. (2018). “Citizen Journalism and Public Cynicism Toward Police in the United States” Pending publication.
Version #1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKzOxSrhb2o
Version #2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FC_Wn3Foovs