Universiteit Leiden

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Fear of Terrorism without Terror

From the research Terrorist threat in the Netherlands, the risk perception and opportunities for risk communication (Leiden University) shows that the Dutch respond relatively sober to attacks in neighboring countries and the possible risks of a terrorist threat. Half of the respondents believe that the government should inform them actively and with a clear message about how to act in the event of an attack.

In the past ten to fifteen years, large-scale terrorist attacks have taken place in several European countries. According to the government, the chance of an attack in the Netherlands is realistic: the current threat level has been scaled up to substantial. This research focuses on the question of the risk perception of the Dutch population regarding terrorist threats and the possibilities for the Dutch government to communicate about terrorist threats and about (counter) terrorism policy. The research shows that the Dutch population reacts relatively sober to attacks in neighboring countries and on the possible risks of a terrorist threat. In addition, the long-term classification of the threat level on 'substantial' seems to have little influence on the behavior of the Dutch population.

Collective fear

Concerns in the Netherlands about a terrorist attack seem to relate mainly to a possible attack in the place of residence or elsewhere in the Netherlands, rather than to their own involvement. This collective fear could be reduced by means of transparent communication by the government about the real terrorist threat in the Netherlands.

Possible communication strategies

The possibilities for communication from the government lay in several approaches. For example, a differentiated approach by the government can increase the reach of the message to citizens. On multiple occasions during  the large-scale panel study of more than 1000 participants, it showed that the "Dutch citizen" does not exist, and that the various subgroups within Dutch society must be taken into account: for example, young people are more likely to be active on social media than the elderly. Another example concerns the dissemination of information about the government's efforts to prevent a terrorist attack. Respondents indicated that they wanted to find this information when they were looking for it. At the same time they indicated that they would like to be actively informed about changes in the threat level. In such cases, it would be possible to choose in the first case to display the information on government websites, with social media being used in the second case.

Clear message

Appropriate opportunities for communication from the government should therefore focus primarily on communicating a clear message, in which the target and target group of the message is not lostout of sight.

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