Social Media and Fear of Crime: The Importance of Research in this Area.

 As many readers of this blog, and followers on Twitter, will know I am hoping to study how the sharing of information by police on Twitter impacts on fear of crime in those who read it. Social media has developed with great rapidity over the last few years and has shown huge potential for disseminating information to wide audiences and at great speed. Indeed, the use of Twitter and other media during the riots in August last year was an illustration of how the public can be kept updated of events as they unfold, even when they are unable to view the television or listen to radio.

As I work on developing this research I have received anecdotal evidence from police and public suggesting that people following the police see their tweets as reassuring and they perhaps, therefore, reduce their fear of crime. However research has also suggested that higher levels of information about victims of crime, such as that reported through mass media, can increase the feelings people have about being at risk of victimisation (see e.g., Heath and Gilbert, 1996 for an overview: http://abs.sagepub.com/content/39/4/379.short ). As Heath and Gilbert state, the “charges that the mass media create unwarranted levels of fear of crime are almost as old as the media themselves” (1996: 379). The debate is sure to rage on but, either way, the more research that can be done to input into this debate, the better.

Another reason why it is so important to research this is that the impacts of such fear can be so very debilitating. Although research is never perfect it has shown that between 30 and 50% of the population of England and Wales have worries about falling victim to crime (see e.g., Gray, Jackson, and Farrall, 2008). Psychologists have often shown that low levels of anxiety can actually be a positive thing as it can lead us to be more motivated in terms of taking precautions (Jackson & Gray, 2010). However these worries can become more counter-productive and lead to more negative outcomes

Fear of crime can have negative impacts on individual’s psychological well-being (e.g., Hale, 1996; Jackson & Stafford, 2009) and also impact on the freedom that people perceive they may have in their daily lives or routines. Fear may prevent people from going to certain places at certain time and, in the worst cases, lead to places being labeled as ‘no-go’ areas. This can lead to people moving away and prevent others from visiting, all of which impacts on social cohesion and trust.

So, overall, this is a real and potentially harmful issue. The Police and other agencies do a huge amount of work in actively re-assuring their communities and helping to reduce their fear of crime. Researching the use of social media in furthering these efforts can only, therefore, be an important factor in helping resolve the debate that surrounds this area.

  1. Gray, E., Jackson, J. and Farrall, S. (2008). Reassessing the Fear of Crime. European Journal of Criminology, 5, (3), 363-380.
  2. Hale, C. (1996). Fear of crime: A review of the literature. International Review of Victimology, 4, 79-150.
  3. Jackson, J. & Stafford, M. (2009). Public health and fear of crime: A prospective cohort study. British Journal of Criminology, 49, (6), 832-847
  4. Jackson, J. & Gray, E. (2010). Functional fear and public insecurities about crime. British Journal of Criminology, 50 (1),, 1-21.
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4 Responses to Social Media and Fear of Crime: The Importance of Research in this Area.

  1. Thought provoking article. You’re right there is a big difference between the information broadcast via the mass media and that which police forces and members post. I have seen evidence that people trust police information and I’m aware that police posts during disorder or major incidents are well received and heavily followed.

    As the Community Engagement Sergeant for West Sussex, satisfaction and confidence form a large part of my role and I’m hoping that the results of my survey will assist me to support the six districts to better communicate with their communities.

    I would also be interested in the results of your work. Good luck.

    • Thanks Peter and I’m glad thism was of interest to you. I’m sure that research will show a positive impact of the kind of information that police tweet. I think the work you are doing is very positive and in many ways we are trying to achieve the same thing. I’ll be using some proven measures of fear of crime and so hopefully my results will, eventually, help inform you future work. I’ll keep in touch with you on this. In the meantime best wished with your own research and please let me know how this goes. Kind regards, Jez

  2. Heike Franke says:

    Interesting. I am very curious what your results will be. I think social media is a good means but very crucial is sensitive posting, especially from the police. Information should raise awareness while not frighten people or – even worse – start manhunts.

    • Yes I agree, and this is why we need this research. If the right information is shared in the right way it can make a real difference! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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