This will be a short discussion of the research presented by Viridiana Rios and Johanna Rivera in "Media effects on brutality displays: The case of Mexico's drug war" (2018). This study looked at two variables: media coverage and exposure to brutality. Media coverage consisted of a comparison between official figures from the government on the number of homicides in a certain time period and the number of homicides covered in the media. For example, if in a particular week there were 10 homicides according to official figures and all 10 homicides were also reported in the media, the homicides that week would be considered fully covered. Exposure to brutality consisted of a comparison of displays of narco-messages (i.e. mensajes, cartulinas, mantas, etc.) presented alone versus narco-messages presented with one or several corpses or body parts accompanying the message.
A comparison of the variables was done to examine the relationship between media coverage and criminal behavior. What the researchers found was the existence of a bidirectional relationship between public displays of brutality and media coverage. Interestingly, the results found that the directionality was much stronger for media coverage on displays of brutality as opposed to the other way around, meaning the effect of media coverage of a body left with a message was greater than the effect of a body left with a message on media coverage. One important point to note is that these findings do not support the claim that media coverage affects crime rates. This wasn't tested in the study and is another topic altogether.
The significance of these findings is remarkable. The more attention that horrific displays of violence by criminal groups receive from the media, the more likely it is that there will be additional displays of brutality. Public displays of brutality are frequently used to justify aggressive prosecution of criminal groups by the state which inevitably comes with human rights abuses and significantly more violence within the region.
The implications of these findings are that the media plays an important role within cycles of violence and brutality.
Rios V, Rivera J. Media effects on brutality displays: The case of Mexico's drug war. Politics, Groups and Identities. 2018;7