Can media tracking software make sense of Trump’s ‘underreported’ terrorist attacks?

This week, Donald Trump stated that many terrorist attacks since 2014 have gone “underreported”. The White House subsequently released a list of 78 different attacks between September 2014 and December 2016. Trump’s argument has been treated sceptically by many mainstream media outlets. But we wanted to see for ourselves whether media tracking tools could help get to the bottom of this issue.

It’s hard to quantify exactly what might make a particular story ‘underreported’. However, we used Signal’s media tracking technology to run searches for the perpetrators of several of the attacks referred to in Trump’s list. This allowed us to see the magnitude of each story in the global press.

Media tracking: the results

We analysed media coverage of four different terrorist attacks that were committed in 2016: Larossi Abballa’s killing of two police officers in June; the July murder of a priest in Normandy by Adel Kermiche; a suicide bombing carried out by Mohammad Daleel in Ansbach (also in July); and Ihsas Khan’s knife attack in Sydney which took place in September.

The results paint a complex picture:

donald trump media tracking

Immediately, it is clear that being able to track media over a long period of time shows how spikes in media coverage can be relative. Clearly, none of the attacks were omitted by the international press – Signal’s media tracking solution shows that each story registered over 200 articles on the day of the attacks. This indicates that Trump’s warnings about the media ignoring stories are unfounded. (It is still unclear, though, what Trump’s definition of a story being ‘underreported’ actually is.)

So these attacks weren’t omitted entirely from the media. But our media tracking has also shown that there is a clear discrepancy in how certain terrorist attacks are reported. At its peak, Adel Kermiche’s Normandy attack received 10 times as much coverage as Mohammad Daleel’s and Ihsas Khan’s.

These statistics could partly be attributed to the ‘shock factor’ of each incident. This affects how the media emphasises certain stories. For instance, Larossi Abballa killed two police officers and Adel Kermiche murdered a priest. As well as this, the latter two attacks – perpetrated by Mohammad Daleel and Ihsas Khan – claimed no victims, merely injuries. Deaths, especially of representatives of institutions – such as police officers and religious figures – could well make for more emotive headlines.

Lessons from our media tracking

While Trump was generally wrong to accuse journalists of underreporting particular attacks, our tracking has indicated that the media will indeed focus more on certain stories which are more powerful and shocking than others…but maybe this goes without saying.

For businesses, it is vitally important that their media tracking software is able to produce nuanced insights over a long period of time, analysing data at scale to illuminate issues relating to the news. To see how Signal might be able to help you track your media coverage, sign up for a demo here.

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