Terrorism can be understood as a politically motivated tactic involving threats of violence, in which getting publicity plays a role. Terror affects victims directly, but may also have societal consequences in terms of changes in levels of trust and in political attitudes. The aim of the project has been to examine how terrorist acts or threats influence levels of political and social trust, and which factors play a role in shaping citizens' reactions. Focus has been on the short and long term consequences of terror attacks and terror threat in five countries; the US, Spain, France, Finland and Norway. Particular emphasis has been placed on the consequences of the terrorist attack on 22 July 2011.
Short and long-term consequences of terrorism
In several cases, citizens have reacted with increased political and social trust after a terrorist attack. This was also the case after the 22 July attacks. This pattern is not unequivocal. After the Paris attacks in 2015 we found an increase in political trust, but not in social trust, and after the Nice attack trust levels remained mostly stable. Research has so far had little to say about the difference between short and long-term effects of terrorism. Our studies of 22 July indicate that the increase in trust was short term. One year later, both political and social trust had returned to baseline levels, and remained there for the two following years. This pattern was valid for all groups, including youth. Even though this indicates that effects of terrorism on political and social trust are short-term, our studies still show that both the experience of fear and the effects of fear may remain over time, such as negative attitudes towards immigration and immigrants. Still, we also see that the value structures and narratives about how a given society typically reacts to terrorism may remain long time after the attack.
Reactions in a comparative perspective
We started the study from the assumption that reactions to terrorism in the two high-trust societies Norway and Finland, might diverge from those in the three other countries. This was based on previous findings indicating that high social and political trust could serve as a prophylactic against fear and distrust. The project has provided new knowledge indicating that this assumption is not necessarily valid. Indeed, Norway and Finland are distinguished by lower fear levels than the other countries, but when people get scared, they tend to react in similar ways. The prophylactic effect of fear proved to be valid in Norway after 22 July, but also in France and in Spain after the attacks in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Those with high levels of trust hence got less scared, also when living in low-trust societies.
The impact of media use
Recently, the conditions for disseminating information in relation to terrorist attacks have changed fundamentally with the emergence of social media. Our study shows that the population in the five countries used both mass media and social media extensively to get information about the Paris attacks, and that social media were used to express support, process emotions and discuss events. Norway and Finland were distinguished by much lower levels of use. Those who were afraid of future terrorism used media more than others did after the attacks. The project has also examined the amount of observed hate speech after the attacks, and their effect. Across countries, many citizens reported to have observed terrorism related hate speech online after the Paris attacks, and among these significantly more people reported that the experienced society as characterized by fear. This effect seemed to endure also one year after.
Conditions for resilience
The Disruption project has studied reactions to terrorism and terrorist threat across countries and across time, and demonstrated that societal reactions vary. Nevertheless, we observe some distinct shared traits across countries and terrorist attacks. Major attacks create fear, also when afflicting a foreign country, and fear has a basic negative effect on trust. However, in cases where value based political messages are put forward, that assemble the population; this may prevent the development of distrust. The political response after the 22 July attacks and the Charlie Hebdo attack are strong examples of the promotion of shared democratic values after attacks, and increased political and social trust afterwards indicate the effect of such messages. Our research has also shown that how different parts of the population reacts still depends on their political position and attitudes. Finally, even though shared patterns exist across countries, it should be emphasized that every terrorist attack has its specific history and reactions, based on differences in perpetrators, the character of the attacks and the political context.
Prosjektet har drevet omfattende formidling gjennom foredrag, og gjennom nasjonale medier. Spesielt like etter store terrorangrep er behovet for informasjon og kunnskap stort, og medieformidling kan ha en dempende virkning på frykt i befolkningen.
Seminarer og foredrag har gitt direkte kontakt med relevante brukergrupper, slik som politiet, DSB, mediene og 22.juli-senteret, noe som antas å ha utviklet kompetansen om samfunnsmessige virkninger av terrorisme. Et fordypningsmateriell til 22.juli-senteret presenterer prosjektets resultater til skoleelever og andre besøkende.
Prosjektet har utviklet det internasjonale forskningsfeltet gjennom nye komparative og longitudinelle innsikter, og ved et omfattende datasett til videre bruk. En viktig virkning av prosjektet er etableringen av et internasjonalt, tverrfaglig nettverk, som inkluderer politiske psykologer, medievitere og sosial-psykologer. Disse er sentrale i nye prosjekter finansiert av SAMRISK-programmet, og av DEMOS.
We examine the extent to which large scale, deliberate and malicious actions affect stocks of social capital and, in turn, societal resilience and robustness. The 22nd July terror and its aftermath is a natural pivotal point for this endeavor. However, th e proposed project is a truly comparative effort addressing core issues in the international literature on terror, social capital and societal resilience with a team of renowned international experts. We place the impact of the 2011 attacks in Norway in a larger context by comparing with similar incidents in other countries. We also investigate the social capital impact of other intentional, disruptive acts.
We propose a comparative, longitudinal, multi-dimensional and methodologically diversified projec t.
Variations in institutional context as well as recent experiences greatly affect levels of fear, stocks of social capital and societal resilience. This calls for a comparative approach. Our project will examine countries with varying levels of trust a nd confidence in institutions and varying experiences with terror. In addition to Norway, we will collect comparable survey data from Finland, USA and Spain.
Our longitudinal design enables us to examine causal effects of the 22nd July attacks as well a s to differentiate between short term convulsions and long term, lasting effects. We dispose over unique data which allows us to follow the same individuals over a three-year period. The first observation point is three months prior to the 2011 terrorism.
Our multi-dimensional approach acknowledges that disruptive shocks may affect some dimensions of social capital while leaving others unchanged, and different types of social capital have different implications for societal resilience. The project also investigates how social media in disseminating, framing and reinforcing public reactions.
The project is methodologically diversified in employing panel analysis, survey experiments and qualitative interviews.