Antivirus for your brain: Question what you hear and install some rationality for god’s sake!

Australia has for a long time been split between one side that supports irregular migration and open borders and another side which calls for legislation blocking refugees at the border and limiting annual migrant intake numbers. Why is there such a severe disparity between those who support open borders and those who support current closed border policies? There is no clear answer, the issue is complicated and nuanced to say the least. In order to begin to deconstruct the elements behind this issue, it is necessary to isolate and examine each concept individually. It makes sense to start with the most powerful and important divisive element fuelling the fear and uncertainty attached to issues of immigration, the media.

The media undoubtedly contributes immensely to the propagation of fear in Australia. The reason that the media is so powerful in this regard is because it plays into the psychological fallacy that much of the public is guilty of possessing the misconception — as described by Bruce Schneier in his 2003 book ‘Beyond Fear’ — that the more often we see and hear about something, the more we believe it to be common. This fallacy puts us into the trap of reacting to international terror attacks and “global migration crises” (as local and national news channels would describe it) with emotional and nonsensical calls for change.

Schneier (2003) claims that the stories we hear produce our ignorance of reality when it comes to terrorism, and says that the stories we’re told stick to us more than the data does so that widespread opinions are based more on the stories than on reality. Schneier coined the term “security theatre” to describe the propensity of the media to spread “quick and easy” solutions (such as U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Muslim Ban”) that sound good on paper, but in reality are overreactions to issues that need slow and careful step-by-step evaluation and strategic implementation of policies and legislation, using the expertise of professionals in a variety of industries.

Security theatre in Australia, arguably, can be found in the Australian military led security operation aptly titled “Operation Sovereign Borders”, which maintains a no- nonsense policy preventing the arrival of “illegal” migrant boats to Australian shores. Plans for this operation received popular support from the voting public in Australia as it was framed by the politicians and the media under the guise of emergency protection measures against an influx of radical jihadists. The public has since been divided between those who, when examining the crisis at hand, see either the threatening illegal aliens or, as described by the Asylum Seeker Resource Center, see only “asylum seekers fleeing persecution from their home countries or languishing in transit countries ” which refuse to provide them aid (ASRC 2014). Which side is guilty of blindly consuming security theatre I wonder… The media is at least partially to blame for driving a deepening wedge between the Australian people by playing on our tendency to misconstrue what we see and hear often as being “common” and to exaggerate the validity of what we believe to be hardline solutions to the issues at hand because they pander to our emotions and not to our rationality.

This article was inspired by the video by Vox “This is your brain on terrorism” (link provided below).


ASRC, 2014. Operation Sovereign Borders. [Online] Available at:, [Accessed 01 May 2017].

Schneier, B., 2003. Beyond Fear. 1st ed. New York: Copernicus Books.

Vox, 2017. This is your brain on terrorism. [video online] Available at: <> [Accessed 01 May 2017].