The Scary World of Online News? Internet News Exposure and Public Attitudes Toward Crime and Justice
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A substantial body of literature indicates that certain forms of media consumption may increase anxiety about crime and support for social controls. However, few studies have examined whether Internet news consumption is positively associated with such attitudes. The void is significant given the public’s increasing use of online news sources. This study addresses this research gap.
We draw on data from four national surveys conducted between 2007 and 2013, which collectively include interviews with more than 13,000 Americans. Using OLS and logistic regression, we assess the relationships between exposure to traditional and online media and perceptions of victimization risk, support for punitive crime policies, and views about police powers.
Consistent with prior work, we find positive relationships between exposure to traditional forms of media—television news and crime programming—and anxiety about victimization and support for harsh crime policies. In contrast, Internet news exposure is generally not associated with anxieties about crime or support for getting tough on criminals. However, there is evidence of an interactive relationship between political ideology and Internet news exposure.
The results provide little support for cultivation theory in the context of Internet news consumption. We discuss the import of our findings, and suggest new lines of research to explore the correlates and the effects of exposure to online news sources.
KeywordsCultivation theory Perceived victimization risk Punitive attitudes Policing
This work was supported by funding from the University at Albany, SUNY’s Faculty Research Award Program (FRAP)—Categories A and B. The authors thank Shawn Bushway for his help with collecting data for one of the samples, and Kate Hart for her comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript. An earlier draft of the manuscript was presented at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology in Atlanta, GA. The data from the four samples have been used previously by the authors, either in published or unpublished research, to test other hypotheses.
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