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Also Called:

  • Misleading Vividness
  • The Volvo Fallacy
A close cousin to the Anecdotal Fallacy. The Spotlight Fallacy is making a generalization based on how much news coverage a subject gets. This is fallacious because the news media tends to cover events that are less common than in real life, but it's an easy mistake to make. Many people believe that events that occur often on TV are common in real life.
Examples of Spotlight Fallacy include:
  • News media often seize upon similar stories in the wake of a large event; for example, following a story of a very rare unprovoked attack by an urban fox in Britain, newspapers are covering a far more minor case of a child who was bitten after pulling a fox's tail. Such spates of similar stories create an impression that a massive problem exists, when the only real difference is that every event is now being reported on.
  • School shootings are given extensive media coverage and are a common fear for parents; in fact, they are so rare that a child is more likely to be struck by lightning than to be shot.
  • Parents are terrified of their children being abducted by strangers, due to overwhelming coverage of such events (think Elizabeth Smart). However, the vast majority of kidnappings are committed by immediate family members or close friends.
  • Many people are scared of flying since plane crashes are covered almost every time one happens; car crashes are much rarer in the news. Multi-car pileups and fatalities are occasionally covered but still uncommon. But it is about 200 times more likely for a person to die in a car crash than in a plane crash.
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