I must admit it's not often I agree with much that Alistair Campbell says but there was something in a recent tweet of his that chimed with something I've been thinking about recently:
Terrorism thrives on publicity for many reasons but the link with social proof doesn't necessarily get the focus it should. Social Proof is a "psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation." It's evolutionary basis probably lies in the fact that if we copied others in uncertain situations - like being surprised by a wild animal - we were more likely to survive.
Even now social proof can be a valuable way of allowing us to reduce the number of choices we have to make by following the crowd.
However, social proof can encourage negative behaviour as well as positive. Research surrounding high profile suicides suggests social proof can lead to spikes in suicides in certain circumstances. In some countries this has lead to changes in how suicides can be reported.
We'll never know to what extent the Berlin, London and Stockholm were a result of social proof. Were the attackers following orders or copying behaviour?
There is an argument, and this is where we go back to Alistair Campbell and terrorism, that reducing the coverage of terrorist attacks would reduce the likelihood of copy cat attacks. Censorship in one form or another, it is suggested, would reduce the element of social proof. Whilst this might work, for me it would be a fundamental assault on our democracy and a 'win' for the terrorists.
An alternative solution is to provide better, more positive examples of social proof. These examples would need to be genuine and those at risk of radicalisation, both from the extreme right wing and radical Islam, would need to be able to identify with them. False or manufactured examples would almost certainly be counter-productive.
So positive social proof versus censorship. I know what I'd prefer.