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Media psychologists: Public interest and perception aligns with media coverage

As a follow-up to my animation of earthquake data (The face of a disaster: One week of shaking; Japan Tohoku Earthquake 2011 日本 9級 大地震that you marketers and media psychologists might find interesting, I am attaching a graph that shows the viewing statistics of the YouTube video from May 14 through March 26. In the graph, you will see that the popularity of the video grew exponentially to more than 56,000 views on March 19. On March 20, the USA media did wrap-up stories, summarizing the events that had happened in Japan since May 11. Subsequently, views accelerated to more than 59,500. Cool, I thought, the video was about to go viral.

Not so fast. The next day, the American media was almost silent on the ongoing tragedy in Japan. They had packed their bags and gone home, most without ever getting anywhere near the story. Just as the need began to emerge, the attention of the US media turned to Lybia, Dancing with Stars, and Charlie Sheen. Simultaneously, after growing from zero to 59,600 views within six days, views of "The Face of Disaster" dropped to almost zero with the media coverage, logging fewer than 500 views in the subsequent week.

What this seems to suggest is the degree to which media influences people's interest in and perception of events. During the week of frenzied media coverage, people from around the world had continuously contacted me in a panic to help in some way. Now that the media attention is elsewhere, the passion seems forgotten.
However, something that seems to be influencing a change here is social media. The military, Red Cross, and volunteers are now organized, and are coordinating rescue and relief efforts in the community through Facebook. This seems to be not only mobilizing the local community for action, it seems to be keeping the secondary networks engaged in the story, while the media continues to be unaware of or ignoring the key elements of the emerging crisis. More on that later.

Meanwhile, some questions:

  • To what degree does the media influence public attention and perception of events?
  • How is social media influencing events and changing the media landscape?


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