By now we know what happened on 22 May 2017. We know that at 10.33pm an explosive device was detonated in the foyer of the Manchester arena. We know the names of the victims, their faces and their aspirations, and we know more about the network that helped strap the explosive that killed them to the chest of 22-year-old Salman Abedi. All of this information has been relayed to us by an endless media marathon.
Terrorists and the media share a symbiotic and at times mutually beneficial relationship. Terrorist organisations need the media to inject fear into the largest audience possible and advance their political and ideological goals. In turn, the media allows itself to be exploited by these groups because its purpose is to sell the freshest news. It is no coincidence that the number of terrorist attacks in developed countries has risen in recent years with the rise of social media and online platforms. In 2015, the number of terror attacks in the developed world alone surged by 650%.
Last week, radio stations suspended their normal broadcasting to bring us the latest details at least every half hour. News programmes barely reported anything else for at least two days, and when new information was slow to reach the press, Ariana Grande's career was discussed at length as montages of the pop star flashed across our TV screens.
The tone of this media frenzy varied erratically from messages of hope and resilience to fear-mongering and hysteria. On Tuesday, as politicians were attempting to placate fears of a second attack, the Express produced the following headline: '"They're willing to kill CHILDREN". Expert says terror threat surpasses "deradicalisation"'. At the same time, the Daily Mail was proclaiming that MI5 was drowning under the pressure of '500 live terror probes', while the Telegraph was issuing photographs from what it called 'the Manchester terrorist's "bomb factory"'.
The messages of fear and panic that were regurgitated over and over again in this 24/7 media cycle only served to incite a new wave of terror: the kind that makes people paranoid, insecure, and turn on one another. Greater Manchester Police has called for unity following last Monday's attack as the number of hate crimes in the area has reportedly doubled.
My sister teaches in a Catholic primary school in Glasgow. Every morning the children in her class say a prayer for whoever they are thinking of that day. Sometimes they pray for their pets, for sick people, or for all those in heaven. Last week, she told me, they said they wanted to pray for everyone who is scared. They haven't yet reached their sixth birthdays but they have picked up on the messages of fear perpetuated by TV news bulletins, radio broadcasting and social media. They don't understand why or how, but they are aware of an evil that wants to hurt them.
Freedom of press is a key ingredient in any democratic society. Censorship is not the way to win the battle for democracy, but there is a balance we must strike if we are to deal with terrorism effectively. The media needs to avoid sensationalising events that exacerbate public fears and exercise better self-restraint so that the organisations we deplore don't benefit from the coverage we give to their atrocities.
The US intelligence leak last week underlines how necessary it is for terrorist reporting to be regulated, and the way my sister's class and others up and down the country have responded to the events of 22 May proves that terrorism should be framed to be less fear-provoking. Acts of terror are as much a psychological threat as they are physical and ideological. There are enough people in the world who want us to live in fear without the UK press fostering a culture of terror.