Miriam Attias and Camila Haavisto: A false sense of urgency is hurting social cohesion

by , under Miriam Attias and Camila Haavisto

                                          Miriam Attias                                                                Camila Haavisto

In times when the public debate is overheated and citizens and non-citizens alike may feel that they have to quickly form a strong opinion on a topic, it is crucial to ask ourselves how real this feeling is. The sensation of being under threat triggers bodily reactions and these reactions can undermine our capacity to form a rational opinion of an event or a phenomenon. When this happens on a societal level, there is a risk that simplified models of causes and consequences overtake the public debate.

Hence, in the midst of a so-called mediated scandal of morality, as we are now experiencing in light of the debate over sexual crimes and migration, it is important to remember that we do not immediately have to form a strong opinion even if it seems that everybody around us is doing so. When the public debate is fed by a false sense of urgency, the voices of people and groups with narrow agendas tend to gain ground. However, these hastily formed solutions by such individuals and groups with political and ideological interests, rarely form long-lasting strategies for social cohesion.

Responsibility should be also put on the gatekeepers of the so-called legacy media. The timing is now perfect for journalists and other media professionals to calm the overly heated public debate on sexual crimes and migration. If the debate is allowed to escalate freely, more polarisation and hatred will come out of it. The danger: Deconstructing an already polarised debate is very difficult. The good news: There is concrete advice at hand.

  • Firstly, to depolarise the ongoing debate, we suggest that journalists pay more attention to the “quiet masses.” These are the ones whose claims may seem dull and difficult to grasp at first hand but who may when listened to carefully, have less selfish solutions than those near the extreme poles of the debate.
  • Secondly, in legacy journalism, there is nothing professional about uncritically spreading a demeaning or dehumanising comment in a story only because someone with economic, political and/or social power made such a statement. The opposite should be the case. We suggest that journalists critically, and in meticulous detail, scrutinise the vocabulary used by public figures.
  • Thirdly, in the name of quality journalism, we suggest that journalists speak up as a group against it acting as an extralegal court, In Hungary, entire social groups are currently labelled as potential criminals by the media. We must avoid taking such a path.


Miriam Attias

Mediator/ Head of the Depolarize.fi project

Camilla Haavisto

University Lecturer in Communication, Swedish School of Social Science (Soc&kom), University of Helsinki