Are we misinterpreting lone wolf terrorism?

The well organised and intricate terrorist attacks such as 9/11 and the Madrid bombings have seemingly been replaced by much more random and frightening acts of lone wolf terrorism. Lone wolf terrorism sheds the perception of terrorism as being a group endeavour and instead highlights the potential for an individual to become inspired to commit acts of violence without the direction or knowledge of the organisation. In this sense, lone wolf terrorism is essentially all about the individual rather than the group, thus increasing the difficulty of preventing an attack. The key long lasting consequence of lone wolf terrorism is the sentiment that there are a multitude of terrorists hiding within society which results in a rise of xenophobia and religion-centred hate crimes. However, if lone wolf terrorism is the act of an individual then shouldn’t it be considered detached from both the terrorist organisation and the demographic they belong to? And if this is the case, should the investigation into these lone wolf terror attacks be centred around the individual’s mental health and whether terrorism was simply used to give the perpetrator a sense of identity and purpose?

Debates surrounding the impact that a lack of personal identity and purpose have on lone wolf attackers is split into two differing theories; psychoanalytic and non-psychoanalytic. This article will focus on the psychoanalytic theory which suggests that unconscious factors drive a person’s mental and social life and categorises lone wolf attackers as individuals which lack a personal and social identity as well as having low self-worth. The likelihood of an absence of personal identity is proliferated through the continual growing interconnectedness of states diminishing the sense of a national identity. Therefore, resulting in a vacuum surrounding personal identity which drastically increases the possibility of psychological disturbances within the individual.

In particular, a study conducted on 88 lone wolf attackers from 15 countries found the following characteristics to be present in some or all of the perpetrators; mental illness, vocational problems, high-stress levels, problems with intimate partner relationships, social awkwardness, violent communications, and high intelligence. I find that many of the characteristics noted within the study are associated with problems interacting within society, therefore contributing to the idea that these individuals lack an identity, a sense of purpose and a grounding. The absence of these feelings, coupled with psychological problems, leaves these individuals susceptible to becoming involved with terrorist organisations for the sole purpose of having a place of which to belong.

486560393

Equally, the impact of social media on the mindset of lone wolves is frequently overlooked. Outlets such as Facebook or Instagram encourage the younger generation to view their lives as an ongoing drama and conform to a certain look, culture and way of thinking. Now, should the individual not adhere to these principles, then their personal identity would be out of touch with the status quo and out of place in society.

Furthermore, the increasing use of ‘live’ features on social media as well as mass news outlets provides the perpetrator with a colossal audience for an attack which is guaranteed to provide them with worldwide attention, name recognition and global fame. These factors can be considered key motivations behind an attack when one considers the lone wolves psychological desires to have an identity, to be remembered and to matter. Therefore, violent outlets become a means for these individuals to be immortalised through social and mass media, as well as find a purpose and prove their ability to alter the normal workings of a society that they feel no personal or emotional attachment to.

In my opinion, when a lone wolf attack happens there is general sense that the reasons and motivations for the attack are limited to the terrorist organisation the individual associates themselves with. What is required is an understanding of the impact that psychological disturbances and an absence of personal identity can have on an individual. After all, despite their idiosyncratic nature, lone wolves are essentially narcissistic in nature who rather than operating for the will of the group, instead use violence as a means of punishing the society that they feel no connection to. The change I would recommend is viewing lone wolf terrorism as an incident where an individual suffering from a mental illness or a disassociation from reality and society is taken advantage of by the ideas of a terrorist organisation to find a sense of identity and purpose.

 

Advertisements

Is there no such thing as bad publicity?

In an age where the language of politicians is seemingly becoming more colloquial, eye-catching and deliberately provocative, one must seriously question is there such a thing as bad publicity? After all, the Trump campaign for both the Republican Presidential nomination and the Presidential campaign was arguably based around the deliberate use of controversial rhetoric and proposed policies for the purposes of gaining media attention and exposure at the expense of his political rivals. Obviously this approach proved to be successful in both elections which therefore begs the question if political controversy is the best means of attracting media coverage. Furthermore, one must also consider whether Trump’s approach is undertaken with social media in mind rather than traditional mainstream outlets. With services such as Facebook and Twitter offering the user the ability to share stories meaning articles that both support and condemn the politician in question can go viral and reach far more people that traditional mainstream media outlets can.

Focusing prominently on the question posed, multiple studies have conducted research on the supposed relationship between media bias, candidate popularity and the political attitudes of the reader. Unsurprisingly, one candidate regularly focused on is now US President Donald Trump, who despite regularly attracting harmful press won the Republican nomination and the US Presidential election. In this sense, the continuous negative media campaign against Trump from mainstream American and global media outlets may ironically have boosted his quest for candidacy. After all, through sound bites and ill-thought supposed policies, Trump was able to capture the attention of both the electorate and the media, thus giving him his far more coverage than his more qualified and experienced political opponents. Furthermore, multiple studies consider that negative press generates far more interest than positive press. Primarily, these conclusions are drawn due to the fact that the number one priority of media outlets is to publish stores that will drive traffic and attract readers. Frequently, the stories which generate the most interest and are often the most talked about are based around the controversial viewpoint of a politician. The method of using controversial rhetoric and policies to gain media exposure was regularly utilised by the Trump campaign, which along with his already established pre-existing fame lead to sole focus being placed on him and a sense of selective exposure from media which was particularly evident in the race for Republican nomination.

Moreover, if one assumes that exposure is the primary aim of any politician running for office then negative press may be the most efficient means of attaining it. After all, as previously noted political controversy often leads to a higher number of articles being produced on the subject as well as encourages debates on the true meaning and legitimacy of the claims made. The second consequence noted is particularly significant when one considers the popularity of social media platforms. In this sense, controversial comments which attract interest can frequently go viral and reach millions without the influence or input of professional journalists. This conclusion can be considered particularly significant when one considers that a study conducted by Ipos Mori found that 34% of 18 to 24-year olds admitted that their political ideals and allegiance could be altered by something they read online. Additionally, a separate study conducted on the same topic supported Ipos Mori’s results by noting that 41% of young people aged between 15 and 25 had at some point engaged in a political debate online. The data provided by the two studies seemingly supports the claim that there is a positive relationship between media coverage and electoral success.

Finally, one can consider negative publicity and the media’s relationship with it to be a cycle of exposure which may or may not benefit the candidate. This cycle has three distinct sections which motivate one another. These are: controversial comments or policies by the political candidate, negative publicity and increased coverage in mainstream media and reaction on social media platforms. Furthermore, the cycle begins through the controversy generated by the politician, such as Trump’s pledge to build a wall along America’s southern border, consequently a multitude of analytical articles appear through traditional mainstream media outlets as well as online. The rise in online articles will invariably increase the likelihood of the story going viral and being read by millions of people. Moreover, as a consequence of a higher number of people being interested in the story and the fact that journalists have to publish stories which will generate traffic, the candidate’s coverage in mainstream media is rapidly enlarged and increases likelihood of success in the polls due to the candidate holding house-hold name recognition. In this sense, there is really no such thing as bad publicity as the primary aim of any modern day politician is media exposure and recognition.

By Jonathan Evans