Social media takeover has completely changed the game of news cycles and almost relegated mainstream mass media channels to the back of the queue. Most people nowadays get their news from social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. Most, if not all, media houses have been wise to keep up with the times and have established official accounts on these platforms that users can use to access verified content. That being said, the power of mainstream mass media cannot be wished away as they are still able to reach the masses that are not yet on social media. Mass media is a very powerful amplifier of emotions and a driver of various agenda in society. As Jim Morrison rightly stated, whoever controls the media, controls the mind and this insight is not lost on terrorists who have increasingly sought the use of media to advance their agenda.
Dan Brown opined that media is the right arm of anarchy and American historian Walter Laqueur seemed to agree with him when he wrote that: It has been said that journalists are terrorists’ best friends, because they are willing to give terrorist operations maximum exposure. This is not to say that journalists as a group are sympathetic to terrorists, although it may appear so. It simply means that violence is news, whereas peace and harmony are not. The terrorists need the media, and the media find in terrorism all the ingredients of an exciting story.
Journalists often play the role of educating and imparting the public with the truth. But with the complexity occasioned by social media in the journalism landscape, there is increasing apprehension around journalistic standards of reporting.
In order to keep up with the fast-paced news cycle, journalism seems to have descended into a numbers game characterized by sensationalism and the rush for views, impressions and engagement. Professionalism and ethics have somewhat become a pariah to journalists. With media bosses only concerned about their bottom lines, the end justifies the means, much to the glee of terrorists because such careless and callous reporting especially of terrorist attacks fulfills the aims of the terrorism itself in spreading fear and confusion to the masses.
Humans are hard wired to believe and trust what we see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears, as such it behoves journalists to exercise more restraint while reporting on terror. They should embrace responsible journalism by following the set guidelines for reporting on terrorist activities. Without which journalists and the press may find themselves on the wrong side of the law. The role of media in the preventing and countering violent extremism cannot be overstated enough. The primary function of journalism still remains to get facts right. Journalists should only report as facts information that has been verified by the approved authority to be true, demonstrate discretion, show empathy and use appropriate language all the while providing the public with positivity and promoting resilience in the face of reporting on an attack.