It took just one week following the so-called “Slender Man” knife attack by two young girls upon another young girl whom they termed a friend with no apparent sense irony to go viral within the sociological world of deviance amplification. By the time you read this, you may well have already forgotten the news: two pre-teens planned and carried out the stabbing death of their “friend” apparently as some sort of almost unbelievably premeditated sacrificial offering to a fictional internet sensation known as the Slender Man. One might well have figured that the two young girls driven to such heights of psychopathy in the name of a fictional and faceless internet predator created in the name of good scary fun would be both the beginning and the end of the story.
One might well have thought such a thing if one were not familiar with the standard operating procedure of the 24 hour news cycle that has managed to spill over from the CNN and Fox News Channels of the world into the local news. A week following the Slender Man attack by the two young girls came reports of a two gun-wielding right-wing political activists who posted to social media images of themselves dressed as the Slender Man which was followed by the reports of a mother who claimed her daughter’s attack upon her was instigated by the Slender Man character.
Doubtlessly by the time you read this there will have been other reports by the media of Slender Man inspiring violent behavior. For the record and because it is an appropriate admission, a member of my own family once costumed himself as Slender Man and also enjoyed the website shenanigans of the character precisely for the reason intended: entertainment in a way that is absolutely no different from the horror film of your choosing. The Slender Man sensation relative to violent behavior in his name is just one example of how broadcast journalism in America has hijacked as its primary reason for being the sociological concept known as deviance amplification.
Deviance amplification is a term developed to describe and explain how behavior expressed or exhibited in extremely rare circumstances that has been termed deviant is latched onto by the media in the most authentic definition of the word sensationalist. A sensation is created across the broad scale of the 24 hour news cycle that now extends not just from CNN to your local news stations, but to internet sites both respectable and disreputable. Before the internet age, the Slender Man attacks might have originated in the very same way in the very same location but with the exception that the driving motive behind behind the urge to violence would have been a novel or a movie or even a song. Exact same scenario but with a different impetus. The other big difference would be that quite possibly the news of the attack would never have leaped off the screens of local TV. You might never have heard about two young girls trying to stab their so-called “friend” to death with a knife before the internet age.
With the ability to instantly transform what is very much a localized event into a sensationalist story with broad national appeal–for lack of a better word–what had been just a single event of unquestionably deviant behavior becomes amplified. Depending on the news source you are getting your news from or even the specific personality overseeing the specific show on the news source, the transformation of a story that should by all rights have been only about the mental state of the two young attackers or, arguably, an investigation into whether parental oversight played the defining role into a story about the danger of one little-known internet character happened either in the blink of an eye or maybe a few hours longer.
Deviance amplification began life as a sociological study on the media coverage of behavior like soccer hooliganism and violent confrontation between Mods and Rockers in 1960s England . A key component of deviance amplification as a sociological construct quickly focused on how sensationalist coverage by the mainstream media controlled by the majority ethnic and racial interests targeted minorities for undue blame and unfair coverage of that deviant behavior. Another interesting element in the studies is that the more the media amplified deviant behavior the greater the number of arrests that resulted while the story was “hot.” Not that the deviant behavior itself was exhibited more often than before the media latched onto it for their own purposes. Deviance amplification does not stimulate more deviant behavior, but it does stimulate more police action, judicial interest and political overreaction.
The primary thing to realize is that not only does media amplification of deviant behavior like the Slender Man attacks not contribute to substantially more exhibitions of that behavior, but that it also reveals that the occurrence of the deviant behavior that briefly causes such a public ruckus was originally just that: deviant behavior. Meaning behavior so far off the beam of acceptable mainstream behavior that by its very definition any authentic exhibitions of those acts would barely register as a percentage of the population.
And meanwhile, non-deviant behavior like illegal activities among Wall Street and historically defined usury by banks and credit card companies never even make it onto the radar of the 24 hour news channels that get the whole amplification thing rolling.