Media framing of spiders may exacerbate arachnophobic sentiments

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Mammola , S , Nanni , V , Pantini , P & Isaia , M 2020 , ' Media framing of spiders may exacerbate arachnophobic sentiments ' , People and Nature , vol. 2 , no. 4 , pp. 1145-1157 .

Title: Media framing of spiders may exacerbate arachnophobic sentiments
Author: Mammola, Stefano; Nanni, Veronica; Pantini, Paolo; Isaia, Marco
Contributor organization: Zoology
Finnish Museum of Natural History
Date: 2020-12
Language: eng
Number of pages: 13
Belongs to series: People and Nature
ISSN: 2575-8314
Abstract: 1. Spiders are able to arouse strong emotional reactions in humans. While spider bites are statistically rare events, our perception is skewed towards the potential harm spiders can cause to humans. Nevertheless, there is still limited understanding of the role of the media in spreading (mis)information about them thereby promoting this distorted perception of risk. 2. We examined the human dimension of spiders through the lens of traditional media, by analysing spider-related news published online in Italian newspapers between 2010 and 2020 (n = 314). We assessed the accuracy, circulation and sensationalistic content of each article, and assessed how each of these features drove news' share on social media. 3. We observed a recent, exponential increase in the frequency of the news, particularly those focused on medically important spiders-the Mediterranean black widow Latrodectus tredecimguttatus and the Mediterranean recluse Loxosceles rufescens. The news quality was generally poor: 70% contained different types of error, 32% were sensationalistic, and in virtually none was an expert consulted. 4. The risk scenario depicted by the media reports was unnecessarily alarmist, especially with regard to L. rufescens. A conservative estimate would suggest that less than 10% of the bites reported in the media reports analysed here were delivered by the species described in the report. Moreover, two out of three casualties associated with a bite of the Mediterranean recluse were fake news, while the third was unverifiable. 5. Overstated news referring to spider bites was shared significantly more on social media, thus contributing to frame a distorted perception of the risk. This is important given that these negative sentiments may ultimately lead to lowering public tolerance towards spiders and reducing conservation efforts towards them. We discuss open questions and avenues for future research concerning the media coverage of widely feared animals, that will help bridge knowledge gaps regarding the role of traditional and social media in framing our perception of the natural world.
Subject: arachnophobia
emotional contagion
fake news
mass media
mediterranean black widows
recluse spiders
social media
spider bite
1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
Peer reviewed: Yes
Rights: cc_by
Usage restriction: openAccess
Self-archived version: publishedVersion

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