In conventional wisdom, it is fair to say that every disappearance is as important as each other. It would be unfair to state that one person’s disappearance matters more than another person’s.
Every person can make a contribution in their life, and all lives are worth the same – at least in practice they are.
But when you consume media, you will notice that some disappearances make worldwide headlines, while others fade into the background, with the disappearance unknown to most.
It could be questioned – why is this? The answer, somewhat worryingly – lies in the media, and how they are ultimately the ones that decide which disappearances attract interest, and which don’t.
The media continues to have a stranglehold on the information we receive and consume. The mainstream media can push any agenda they like, which is worryingly – but an unfortunate fact in life.
Away from disappearances – the media bias can be seen through the coverage of Joe Biden’s fall up the stairs of Air Force One, compared to Donald Trump’s slow walk down the stairs.
The US media largely ignored Biden’s calamitous fall, unlike their heavy media coverage of Trump’s slow walk. This is just one example of the power that the media has.
Looking more at disappearances now – and the idea is the same. The media can raise awareness of the disappearances that they wish to, and ignore any that do not meet a pre-defined agenda.
These media outlets are ultimately businesses, and they write about the topics that will get them revenue – which guides their editorial decisions.
In terms of disappearances, it seems that mainly it is white women, and those from upper-middle class or those deemed attractive – that are covered the most in the media.
It could be argued that women are seen as more sympathetic victims, and easier to attract and retain interest in – which is crucial for the media companies.
As mentioned, media outlets are businesses that are out to make money. They seemingly get the most interest from readers when it is white women involved.
But it turns out that there are more males than females currently involved in active missing cases in the United States, with similar numbers expected in other nations.
And approximately 25%-30% of active disappearance cases relate to black people. But again, there seems to be disproportionate coverage given to cases involving black people.
Other factors that influence media coverage include the image of the parents/family of the person that has disappeared, the circumstances behind the disappearance, how “relatable” the family is, and often, location.
The Case of Madeleine McCann
The case of Madeleine McCann is the classic example of how the media have focused enormously on one particular disappearance.
In fact, it is arguable that no disappearance in history has attracted the level of interest that McCann’s disappearance has.
McCann was just 3 years old when she disappeared while on holiday with her parents in Portugal in 2007. The case made worldwide headlines, and the media provided heavy coverage of the investigations.
McCann’s parents had inexplicably left their three children in their apartment while eating with friends approximately 150feet away, though the front door was obscured by walls.
The patio doors to the apartment were left unlocked, and when Madeleine was checked-up on later in the night, she was missing. Her disappearance was reported to the Police, who were slow to start searching.
McCann was never found, though there has rarely been a month – even in recent years – where there hasn’t been a form of reporting on the case.
The government have continued to plough funds into the investigation into the disappearance of McCann.
Contrast this to other disappearances, and there have been nowhere near as much media coverage provided. Some disappearances are totally ignored by the media.
However, the advent of social media has been excellent for disappearances – and provides more power to the families of those who disappear.
One study has shown that just 17% of disappearances that were reported on social media in Australia in 2019, were covered by the media.
Now, a simple post on Facebook can reach huge swathes of people. Just as news can help spread awareness, social media has the same power.
There have been solved disappearances where social media has been instrumental in solving them, which has reunited family members together.
One example case is that of Serena Bruckhurst – a 14-year old girl that went missing over the Christmas period in 2011.
Bruckhurst’s disappearance was completely ignored by the mainstream media, and even local media outlets didn’t seem to put much focus on her disappearance.
But celebrities on social media were able to raise awareness – with footballer Rio Ferdinand, comedian Matt Lucas and ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s wife Sarah – all among those to make appeals on Twitter.
Fortunately, Bruckhurst was found in an event that was largely attributed to the awareness driven by celebrity appeals on social media.
Law enforcement authorities are increasingly turning to social media sites to try and involve civilians in investigations, and get help wherever possible.
Therefore, social media has an important part to play in mysterious disappearances, and can make up for the media’s questionable decisions on which cases deserve interest.
The media does continue to have a large say on what stories are reported on and which aren’t. There are definitely problems with this.
But social media is readdressing the balance, and is providing a different outlet that can reach huge amounts of people.
In an ideal world, all disappearances would receive the same amount of interest and awareness, but despite improvements being made in recent times, there continues to be problems.