Asylum Issue Is A Relatively Recent Phenomenon Criminology Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

The asylum issue is a relatively recent phenomenon primarily because the annual number of applications did not exceed 5,000 until the late 1980s Schuster and Solomos, 2001: 2. Consequently, there was low demand for legislation to regulate the acceptance, entitlement and integration of claimants (Ibid); ensuring policy was maintained 'by the absence of laws' (Porter, 1979: 3). During the last two decades the number of applications systematically increased with the peak year amassing 57,570 in 2003 (Home Office Statistics Bulletin, 2010: 24), which in turn prompted greater public concern, legislative enactments and hostile media attention (UNHCR, 2006: 16). Although recent statistics show a significant decline in application numbers to approximately 20,000 (Home Office, 2012), asylum seekers continue to receive disproportionately hostile and aggressive attention, resulting in further demand for restrictive action from the public and legislators. This paper will therefore critically evaluate the causal reasoning for the disproportionately negative treatment of asylum seekers by the media and legislators. Such finding will primarily be enacted through the use of behavioural economic instruments of the availability heuristic and cascades, in order to provide more accurate assumptions and predictions about human behaviour and law (Jolls, 2007: 21; 24).


Conventional decision theory claims that individuals seek to maximise 'the expected value of some function when selecting amongst actions with uncertain outcomes' (Noll and Krier, 1990: 747), estimating efficiently the probability and frequency of ambiguous events. Therefore, the distribution of legislative policy would arguably produce effectual implementations, as the most cost efficient proposals are enacted. However, conventional decision theory arguably contradicts certain real life applications, and has led to the emergence of academic work related to the promotion of behavioural law and economics by Thaler et al (1998: 1471) and Jolls (2007: 2). From a practical viewpoint, The Dangerous Dogs Act (1991) is portrayed by Lodge and Hood (2002:1) to constitute an example of governmental forced choice to public and media outcries of a danger that in reality is statistically modest. Similar outcomes are depicted by Kuran and Sunstein (1999: 691; 702) regarding the episodes of the Love Canal and the TWA Flight 800: events which produced disproportionately high costs in relation to the probabilities and frequency of their true risk.

Departing from the standard model of decision theory, cognitive psychologists developed 'a new descriptive theory of how individuals make decisions under conditions of risk and uncertainty' (Noll and Krier, 1990: 747). When confronted with uncertain decisions, Taylor (1982: 163) claims individuals possess restricted capacity in processing information during a fixed period of time; and individuals are said to systematically misestimate the frequency of probabilities (Noll and Krier, 1990: 754). In order to reduce the complexity of predicting values to similar judgmental operations, people rely on heuristic principles (Tversky and Kahneman, 1974: 1124); which act as cognitive shortcuts (Cartwright, 2011: 27). Heuristics are particularly advantageous, because they are used to save information processing and decision analysing costs incurred under conditions of risks and uncertainty (Tversky and Kahneman, 1974: 1124). However, heuristics may lead to systematic bias of estimation due to certain individuals' proneness towards miscalculations of given outcomes to others (Noll and Krier, 1990: 747).

The primary heuristic for the purposes of this study is the availability heuristic, which is enacted by individuals through their estimates of frequency and probability by the ease with which they can mentally construct instances or association (Tversky and Kahneman, 1982: 164). Occasions or classes that are larger tend to be recalled faster and easier (Tversky and Kahneman, 1974: 1127). Research claims of Abelson and Levi (1985) hold that individuals' expectations about future outcomes strongly affect their decisions, and it has been demonstrated that the availability of causal explanations can strongly affect the perceived likelihood of social theories (Anderson et al, 1985).

Bousefield and Sedgewick (1944: 149-165) maintain that people can assess availability quickly and what they perceive to be accurate; and cumulative retrieval of instances is a negatively accelerated exponential function of time. In addition to familiarity, there are other factors such as salience which affect the retrievability of instances (Tversky and Kahneman, 1974: 1127), the subjective probability of a factor will rise temporarily when a similar event has occurred recently (Kuran and Sunstein, 1999: 718). Therefore, highly salient data will be retrieved with greater chance. Following the experiments of Taylor and Fiske (1981. Cited in Taylor, 1982: 193-194) there is a suggestion that vividly imagining an outcome after thinking about reasons for its occurrence may increase the persistence of the probability estimate. Therefore predictions are greater affected by the availability of reasons as opposed to imagery of the outcome alone (Levi and Pryor, 1987:221).

The availability heuristic may lead to efficient methods of obtaining information for imperfectly informed agents, and is argued by Sunstein (1999: 689) to be rational under such circumstances, however it is also prone to systematic biases. Evidence by Bruner and Potter (1964:424-425) depicts that individuals' preconception once perceived in a particular fashion will be disproportionately harder to sway towards a different view. In addition, highly salient date that is frequently encountered will exert biased influence over the judgment process (Kahneman et al, 1982: 192); such as the attribution of information to a whole group as a result of one particular individual's influence (Rothbart et al, 1978. Cited in Taylor, 1982: 194). Consequently, it is possible to evaluate and predict the actions of individuals, because availability provides a mechanism by which outcomes of extreme utility may appear more frequent than is necessary (Tversky and Kahneman, 1982:176). In addition, the distinction of this heuristic and the use of a different inferential process is that 'little actual retrieval or construction needs be completed; an estimate of the ease with which this process would perform is sufficient as a basis for inference' (Tversky and Kahneman, 1982: 164; Taylor, 1982: 196).

Further problems may stem as the availability heuristic ordinarily combines with and encompasses 'socially shaped informational cues and reputational incentives' (Sunstein, 1999: 761) known as informational and reputational cascades. Individuals are said to use the cascades by following preceding behaviour of others without evaluating the information received (Hirshleifer, 1993: 145), or through motivations of protection and enhancement of their reputation (Kuran, 1998: 623). Under the right circumstances, the availability heuristic amalgamates with the cascades to generate the availability cascade: 'a pervasive mental shortcut whereby the perceived likelihood of any given event is tied to the ease with which its occurrence can be recalled' (Sunstein, 1999: 685). A primary reason as to why cascades are generated is because of the high costs attributed to gaining pertinent information, individuals therefore often free ride on knowledge that is publicly available (Sunstein, 1999: 717). This results in higher reliance on information of selected others, as individuals do not carry out personal investigations (Wildavsky, 1995. Cited in Dryzek, 1995: 299) which in turn causes them to join and contribute to the cascade; resulting in a 'bandwagon or snowball effect' (Leibenstein, 1950:190). Particular problems may arise as false or selected information is spread and exacerbated, ensuring 'the perceived collective wisdom bears little relation to reality' (Kuran and Sunstein, 1999:761).

In order to depict how individuals become influenced by cascades, it is argued that people do not process information efficiently, or provide necessary allocation to inherent risks (Noll and Krier, 1990: 750). People have different thresholds for accepting information (Granovetter, 1978: 1420; 1435), there is a higher tendency to believe desirable or convenient rumours, or where the is a lack of access to the information sought after (Sunstein(a), 2009: 50). This is because people have access to private information, and once the perceived information outweighs the individual's private information, the subject follows predecessors (Hirschleifer, 1993: 26). The availability effect underlines the importance of salience, images and rumours which if portrayed more frequently and timed appropriately 'will induce people to behave as if the likelihood of such events has increased' (Noll and Krier: 1990: 769). Kuran and Sunstein (1999: 713) argue that the social conditions create an availability market, which results in the most plausible, repetitive or readily available information gaining the highest awareness despite alternative preconceptions (Kuran, 1995: 166). This in turn prompts selective events receiving greater exposure 'to appear more worrisome' (Noll and Krier, 1990: 777), whereupon there is a surge in demand for the highlighted risk resulting in excessive policy regardless of the probabilities (Ibid: 761). This is particularly dangerous as availability cascades have a low activation threshold and also exhibit fast lifespans, which in turn forces governments to adopt expensive measures without careful consideration of the facts (Sunstein, 1999: 746).

It is therefore argued that two major problems are subsequently presented regarding the influence exhibited by availability cascades. Firstly, the use of availability cascades may lead to consequences similar to Faustian bargain principle (Noll and Krier, 1990: 758): individuals demand for a particular risk reduction program which provides no guarantee that a proportionate benefit will amount from the government conceding (Kuran and Sunstein, 1999: 747). This also does not indicate that individuals 'truly desire the measures they are championing' (Ibid), as they simply fall in line with the bandwagon. Secondly, availability cascades do not appear randomly, they are triggered by forces wishing to underline particular agendas which further their cause; these powers understand the psychology of public opinion regarding the magnitudes of risk and seek to exploit the expressive equilibria of others, which are static and prone to sudden shifts (Ibid: 761).

Social agents and propagators are held to constitute such 'powers' and 'forces', acquiring the title availability entrepreneurs; as they comprehend the dynamics of availability cascades and 'seek to exploit their insights' by raising the salience of specific problems (Ibid). The media is argued to perform such an entrepreneurial role as it has influence over the prominence with which selected stories are actively pursued, in turn shaping and soliciting the messages in storylines and through its use of particular facts (Page 1996: 21). Media outlets have diverse and complex objectives, despite this is, the primary motive is to project to an enlarged audience, which in response may cause higher value to be allocated for certain and selected risks (Sunstein, 1999). Such propagators arguably contribute to the problems discussed above because the diversity of opinion is often misleading. Editors of media companies tend to highlight 'a truncated distribution of views centred on policy position of their own' (Page, 1996: 21; 24), therefore the alleged objectivity is false as reports are not portrayed in a neutral voice (Ryan, 1991: 179).

A danger presented by biased information highlighted by Williams; (1994: 1171; 1163) is that recurrent images shape our perception in subtle ways which 'develop a belief system more deeply held than rational thought'; causing a 'hardened perception, which renders corrective caveats effectively useless'. This will ensure individuals become sensitised to the benefits of the propagators intentions without necessarily developing an awareness of the true costs. Media images are seen to contribute to legislative decision making (Schoenbach, 1987: 373), through two complimentary methods: isolating selected events and giving the incidents high visibility (Lodge and Hood, 2002: 2) or by way of attracting high public attention and in turn using pressure to demand immediate governmental action (Ibid). The media creates an image, soliciting the shape which is not 'false or exclusive but is dissembling in its uniqueness, and the public's selective gravitation to the image in order to validate its own perceptions' (Williams, 1994: 116). This in turn presents policy makers with a knee-jerk forced choice as a result, obliging legislators to introduce regulations (Lodge and Hood, 2002: 10).


Having established the primary notions of the theory regarding the availability heuristic and cascade, the two aspects will be used to explain, evaluate and predict the causal link between the media's role regarding asylum and legislative policy. For the purpose of the present study, this was enacted through the use of secondary sources. The United Nations Commission for Refugees (hereinafter UNHCR) and UK governmental bodies such as the Home Office were used to provide statistics and opinion regarding the issue of asylum, legislation and the media. Academic sources, notably Malloch, Stanley and Sales were used from a range of specialist fields to help provide critic and commentary on the current legislation, proposal and treatment of applicants. The independent organisation Information Centre about Asylum Refugees (ICAR) and the charity Refugee Council were also used to further similar aims. The sources were subsequently used in conjunction to illustrate whilst drawing inferences regarding the selection and type of imagery used by the media, the frequency of such depictions and the concerns raised by the House of Lords Joint Committee on Human Rights. In furtherance this provided for critical evaluation concerning the legislative voice constituting similar principles with the Medias views. The consequences include increased restrictions upon arrival, the escalation of detention and dispersal techniques and the rise in privatisation of detainment facilities.


The Role of the Media

Throughout the past two decades the media has provided extensive coverage regarding asylum seekers with 'greater banality that has succeeded in forging an amalgam of immigration, illegality and criminality' (Wacquant, 1999: 219). This group has been consistently present on political and media agendas (Refugee Council, 2012: 1); as asylum seekers are portrayed unfairly by certain media outlets, 'often in breach of the Press Complaints Commission's Code of Practice (Ibid). Public concerns have been heightened through extensive exposure that portrays asylum seekers to be a problematic and a homogenous group (Malloch and Stanley, 2004: 54), whom comprise of 'scroungers, a threat to British identity and a drain on state resources' (House of Lords, Joint Committee, 2007: 100). The availability heuristic is most effective when it is recalled with ease (Tversky and Kahneman, 1982), therefore the medias portrayal of asylum seekers interchangeably with immigrants and the use of misleading and wrongful phrases such as 'illegal' and 'burden' (UNHCR,2006: 16) connotes negative images that the public and legislative officials perceive. Although the number of asylum applications are held to be significantly reduced (Home Office, 2012), the enduring damage of the cascades prevails. Following opinion polls, the British public continues to overestimate the number of asylum seekers in the UK and are often confused as to who they are (Refugee Council, 2012: 3). It therefore appears that the attitude of 'asylum seekers flooding into Britain prevails' (Ibid), affirming Potter and Bruner's (1969) claim that individuals' preconceptions once perceived in a particular fashion will be disproportionately harder to sway.

The media has placed particular focus to differentiating the 'deserving' from the 'undeserving', cataloguing those eligible for asylum protection (Malloch and Stanley, 2004:54; Sales, 2002: 456), such classification simplifies the ease of recall, ensuring individuals similarly categorise asylum seekers. Asylum seekers have been represented as different from the indigenous population for many years such as with the implementation of the Aliens Act 1905. However, whilst asylum seekers are shown to be different from the British population, the public has seemingly adopted a new perception that maintains they cannot be changed (Malloch and Stanley, 2004: 56). In conjunction with these representations, it is suggested that the media acting as an availability entrepreneur selects very limited number of asylum seekers to be 'genuine' while the broader influx of applicants have the potential to cause serious risk and threat to liberal democratic states (Ibid: 54). This in turn ensures the information recalled by the public and policy legislators is negative and control orientated. Cohen (2002: xix) argues that this culture of disbelief has encompassed the whole system that recalls bogus asylum seekers 'not really driven from their home countries because of persecution, but merely for economic migration attracted to the 'Honey Pot' or for 'Soft Touch Britain''. This is affirmed by Malloch and Stanley (2004: 55) and the Home Office (2002), who maintain that individuals tend to recall and associate asylum seekers with their origins, thus perceiving them to have participated in the conflict that they flee, in order to secure an improved standard of life.

Although asylum seekers are essentially catalogued into distinct groups, their lack of particular race or religion ensures they are also an easier target to demonise (UNHCR, 2006:2). The absence of official information and documentation makes them a group confirmed to be implicitly dangerous (Malloch and Stanley, 2004: 54. Citing Pratt, 2000). In addition, their unknown attributes and backgrounds suggest a risk, and a liability that has to be secured out of fear (Malloch and Stanley, 2004:54). Such aggressive depictions undoubtedly result in adamant preconceptions which hold sway regardless if individuals hold high proportions of private information, and particularly people with low access to private information. With regard to recently arrived immigrants, every instance of criminality is selected and highlighted by the mass media and the very fact of their illegal nature is seen as a criminal status (Young, 1999: 112). Mass media attempts to detail every instance of criminality has been such that police forces are repeatedly requested for information on 'examples of crimes committed by asylum seekers' to underpin their copy (Morris, 2003). Such actions would have damaging consequences, as following Kuran's (1995) claim that repetition bolsters perceived validity despite different preconceptions. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (House of Lords Joint Committee On Human Rights, 2006: 101) has confirmed the consistent illustrations of asylum seekers constituting a threat to security, stability and social peace; ensuring such images are the most salient. This sense of political mismanagement is intensified by depictions that draw on public fears and represent asylum seekers to take every scarce medical and social resource (The Evening Times, 2002; The Herald, 2002. Cited in Malloch and Stanley, 2004: 56).

In furtherance to repetitive images, the availability heuristic and cascades have been stated to be influenced by frequency and probability (Tversky and Kahneman, 1982). The media's consistent use of hostile press and comment on asylum seekers (Cousesy/Independent Race Monitor Report, 2005: 19) ensures they suffer detrimental consequences. Statistics revealed that The Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express and the Daily Star produced 8163 articles that mentioned the word asylum seeker in the five years from January 2000 (UNHCR, 2006:16). During the same period, the term 'bogus asylum seekers' appeared 713 times in the seven UK tabloids and 'cheats' 188 times (Ibid). The use of such imagery and providing selected reasoning arguably further contributes to the increase in the persistence of the perceived probability (Taylor and Fiske 1981).

Representations which supposition the image of 'burden' meted out on a daily basis (Malloch and Stanley, 2004:54) imply such images are highly salient and the first to be recalled; especially as only a select few people 'read more than one newspaper a day, and so most individuals are not fully aware of the unremitting nature of the anti-asylum war drums' (UNHCR, 2006:17). Repeated references to 'the problem at hand' and reducing the numbers of asylum applicants tend to reinforce popular misconceptions that abuse is enormous in scale when in reality it is a small proportion of people who enter the UK (Coussey/Independent Race Monitor Report, 2005: 23). The reduction of the proportion of asylum seekers gaining recognition as Convention refugees is cited as evidence in the mass media (Schuster and Solomos, 1999:64). These figures however ignore those who win on appeal (Sales, 2002:457); illustrating the selective use of information by editorial staff. This creates particular problems because individuals do not carry out personal investigations (Wildavsky, 1995) and the cascades are not corrected prompting further damage.

The concern of the sever detrimental effect impacted on asylum seekers as a result of the media is underlined by The House of Lords Joint Committee on Human Rights (2007: 101), who expressed fears regarding the hostile reporting and the negative consequences that result on individual asylum seekers as well as the 'potential it has to influence the decision making of officials and Government policy'. Such can be seen regarding immigration and social housing, The report of the UK's Equality and Human Rights Commission (2009: vii) was designed to investigate the facts behind 'widespread media reports which suggest that migrants receive priority in the allocation of social housing and in doing so displace non-migrants'. The report found that less than two per cent of all social housing residents are people who have moved to the UK in the last five years, conversely nine out of ten people who live in social housing were born in the UK (Ibid: viii and 19). Despite these results, the Daily Mail interpreted the outcome with the headline 'One in ten state-subsidised homes goes to an immigration family' (Doughty, 2009). These results indicate a 'dominating or hegemonic discourse of legal and policy approaches to asylum seekers' (Sweeney, 2011: 101) that yields a minimalist approach to favouring asylum seekers (Ibid). Moreover, 'successive British government have not only led and legitimated public hostility, but spoken with a voice indistinguishable from the tabloid press' (Cohen, 2002: xix)

Impact on Legislative Policy

Malloch and Stanley (2004) confirm the causal link regarding the aggressive media portrayal of asylum seekers which has resulted in the use of detention as a system of discipline to assuage public fears. In conjunction to Cohen's (2002:xix) claim that the government and media's voice is indistinguishable, previous commentators have drawn inferences to the use of the 'bogus' claimants image (Kaye, 1998: Cited in Koser and Helma, 1998: 8). Recent policy enactments suggest a concession to the damaging effects of the cascades with the implementation of techniques that reside on the principle of creating the dividing social categories of 'deserving' and undeserving refugees'; highlighting Britain's occupation with control techniques (Sales, 2002: 456; MacGregor, 1999:110). Such is portrayed with the National Audit Office's (2005: 35) plea to meet new targets of achieving more removals in contrast to the number of failed applicants detained. In furtherance, The Immigration and Asylum Act (1999), Malloch and Stanley (2004: 66) argue has been enacted to combat the rising number of claimants; resulting in the increased practice of detention and the number of spaces available (Welch and Schuster, 2005: 338). It can thus be seen that cascades spurned by ideologies of fear and resentment towards asylum result in harsh penal sanctions that applicants experience whilst seeking aid. Throughout these draconian responses, it must be stated that the Government has experienced 'success' in achieving its desired goal as the number of applications and successful applications have consistently declined (ICAR, 2009: 3); inadvertently leading to the success of affirming the Faustian bargain principle (Noll and Krier, 1990: 758).

The adverse projection of asylum seekers in Britain by the tabloid media, politics and public opinion adheres to a European ideology that incarcerates foreigners and similar enemies who symbolically embody an array of social anxieties (Welch and Shuster 2005: 346. Citing Christie, 1986). The risks stemming as a result of the Medias propagation and triggering of cascades which depict asylum seekers to be allegedly growing numbers is portrayed to be something to submit and control (Brown and Pratt, 2002: 2). Such protectionist agendas are seen by the response to concentrated media campaigns in the tabloids resulting in the Labour government reaction to a 'fictional crisis' by the closure of the Sangatte Red Cross Centre(Welch and Schuster, 2005: 346), having been portrayed as a haven for illegals attempting to enter the UK (Ibid; Cowell, 2004).

Further contributions to the cascade are seen regarding the Home Secretary David Blunkett's discussion of the possibility regarding the implementation of transit processing centres at the European Union's borders (The Telegraph, 2003: 1). This would ensure asylum seekers are only permitted entry once their claims have been substantiated and accepted (Malloch and Stanley, 2004: 59). Although this may be argued proportionate, it does not take into account individuals who do not have identification for legitimate and honest reasons. From the viewpoint of the availability heuristic, these organising dynamics erode the legal rights of individual applicants attributing assumed qualities as a group (Rothbart et al, 1978). Despite this demonising agenda, policy is continually depicted as inadequate, overly liberal and ineffective in upholding barriers to entry (Malloch and Stanley, 2004: 58).

The triggering of negative cascades which play on the legislative administrators and the public's availability heuristic have influenced treatment to the extent that 'asylum seekers are arguably one of the most silenced and at risk groups within society' (Pickering and Lambert, 2001: 219). The Government's main two primary methods of controlling the situation is through dispersal and containment. The social support system, particularly the voucher scheme and compulsory dispersal isolates the individuals from society, promoting intense social exclusion (Sales, 2002: 456). These changes have made asylum seekers a clearer target and underline their dependency on welfare benefits, increasing the burden image that public perception frequents (Sales, 2002: 457; The Economist, 2003: 4); further propagating the cascade. The Government is seen to contribute to the cascade through its implementation of dispersal strategies which are obligatory for asylum seekers if they are to receive State support. This creates the impression of individuals that are copious in number and burdensome as a result of geographical dispersion (Gill, 2009: 187). Despite such procedures, asylum seekers are prohibited from working and supporting themselves for the first six months of their stay (Sales, 2002: 464), which has the effect of further inciting the cascade.

Underpinning all of these developments is the ever present spectre of privatisation, with the expansion of private companies to run centres and manage containment (Green, 1990. Cited by Malloch and Stanley: 60); which has arguably occurred to an indirect extent because of the availability heuristic and cascades. This is because privatisation is a result of tense circumstances, which legitimise policies on the basis that social unrest can be curtailed or minimised by the use of accommodation and detention centres to separate asylum seekers from local communities (Grandon, 2001: 123-125; Malloch and Stanley, 2004). The enduring detrimental consequences are seen through the portrayal of such companies as inadequate and insensitive; the British Medical Journal's (2011:1) research reported three deaths whilst under the private company's care. Such is also seen regarding the Campsfield centre, which has been the site of hunger strikers, rooftop protests and repeated self-harm and suicides (Gill:2009:180; BBC News Online, 2008). Citizens are thus willing to spend disproportionately on outcomes that do not objectively provide similar beneficial consequences (Noll and Krier, 1990: 762).

Despite apparent public approval that asylum seekers should be effectively managed, the planned citing of accommodation centres has frequently incurred a 'not in my back yard approach', particularly against the accommodation of male asylum seekers (Malloch and Stanley, 2004: 61). This is consistent with Noll and Krier's work (1990: 761) where it was argued that unlike traditional theory, the willingness to pay for amelioration rises less rapidly than the rate of increase in the probability of the damaging event. The strength of feeling is such that the government has experienced difficulties in finding appropriate sites to begin construction of accommodation and removal centres (Malloch and Stanley, 2004: 61). This approach is argued to be explained by the alarmist bias, 'individual learning contexts in which diverse risk information is characterised by irrational asymmetry; results in respondents overweighing the value of the high risk judgment'(Viscusi, 1997: 1668). Which Viscusi (Ibid) argues to account for the 'observed overreaction of highly publicised events'.

Such centres have been effectively blocked either through local campaigning or planning decisions (Malloch and Stanley: 62); particularly with the increased momentum of coverage at Yarl's Wood detention centre where asylum seekers were represented as 'fire-raisers' (Ibid). These events highlight the initial availability cascades propagation of further cascades, underlining their dangerousness and uncontrollability. At the centre of such campaigns is the notion that 'asylum seekers are beyond the capabilities of the modern state to manage' (Brown and Pratt, 2000: 47), therefore the public do not perceive the Governments actions as sufficient, which in turn results in an outcry for further extreme legislative proposals.


The manipulation of the media regarding legislative policy is not a new and isolated incident, the implementation of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 saw the potent effects that availability cascades may have on legislation as they force policy makers to concede to a set of particular conditions due to small scale events (Lodge and Hood, 2002: 1). Availability cascades have thus been portrayed to be prone to biases and falsehoods that overwhelm sound scientific reports (Kuran and Sunstein, 1999:737). Regarding asylum law, the UNHCR (2006: 3) claims the inherent problems are management issues as opposed to ideological risks, however it is easier to blame asylum seekers for subverting the system than it is to admit the management of the system is at fault. The government and media therefore intertwine, particularly as significant numbers of asylum seekers do not have valid identities and are thus less protected by statutory rights (UNHCR, 2006:1). The difficulty of securing asylum status is epitomised by the ex-Home Secretary Jack Straws admission that 'there is effectively no legal route for an asylum seeker to travel to and enter Britain' (Malloch and Stanley, 2004: 60). In turn asylum seekers must conform to the image of refugees, assigning a suggestive 'sick role' which serve to both secure resources and to free the individual from social obligations and responsibility within society Pupavac (2006:21). Such approaches consequently ensure individuals recall and associate asylum seekers with images of dependency and burden, undermining the applicant's individual autonomy and further eroding the prospects of statutory rights.

The significant danger of availability cascades is their ability to occur instantaneously. Cascades eventually end primarily because individuals receive independent information whereupon '[they] have no net incentive to alter the preferences or judgments they convey to others' (Kuran and Sunstein, 1999:743); consequently forming an expressive equilibrium (Ibid). Although a cascade will come to a conclusion, the government may implement risk alleviation policy, such as the Asylum and Immigration Act (1999); thus enduring consequences result, even if 'subsequent scientific evidence discredits the information that triggered the cascade responsible for their emergence' (Kuran and Sunstein, 1999:743). Such effects highlight the dangerousness of cascades as the government may concede to populist pressures due to it constituting an easier option as opposed to assessing the true risks and regulating in such fashion. Policies may lead to disproportionate cost-effective analysis, in the present case higher control; which incurs cyclical damage as a result of greater public tensions and concern for tighter legislation (UNHCR, 2006: 12). Clear implications are highlighted regarding the reversal and identification of incorrect decisions in the asylum process, which is argued to be particularly restrictive and ineffective as the only route open to reverse a decision is for the applicant to appeal to the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (ICAR, 2009:10). This has been approved by the UNHCR, who was invited by the Home Office to monitor its procedures under the Quality Initiative Report (2008) its subsequent series of reports have identified a number of flaws in the decision making process (ICAR, 2009:10).

A related implication concerns the belief of generations too young to have experienced the availability cascade that resulted in the prevailing policies (Kuran and Sunstein, 1999:743); the public discourse shaped by the cascade will contribute to the perceptions of new generations (Houston and Sunstein, 1998), which may produce further cyclical effects. The mere fact that individuals are calling for the alleviation of a perceived risk, or that they are demanding reduction program provides no guarantee that even they would benefit from having the government sheepishly fall in line; neither does it mean that they truly desire the measures they are championing (Kuran and Sunstein, 1999:747).

In order to alleviate the potential dangers of cascades, one initial response is to strike a balance to attain a deliberative ideal. Contemporary research on risk promotes the idea that experts and ordinary individuals constitute rival rationalities (Margolis, 1997), with the general population focusing on broader sets of variables. It is argued that assessing the significance of perceived reality requires evaluative judgments that are more beneficial if proposed by democratic opinion in contrast to experts (Kuran and Sunstein, 1999: 738), providing judgments about qualitative differences among perceived threats are reflective and can withstand critical scrutiny (Margolis, 1996: 193; Sunstein, 1997: 267-75). However, a government that abides by public opinion in mechanical fashion would be committing an availability error of its own (Kuran and Sunstein, 1999:739). It is thus argued that governments can protect their policies from serious availability distortions through mechanisms identifying some form of private opinion (Goodin, 1991:75-102). Fishkin and Jowell (2002: 455) proposes that governments pay particular regard to polling instruments that give individuals anonymity, as such surveys will allow people to express unpopular views without fear of retaliation.

Alternatively, regarding a more direct method, it is often said that a remedy for false speech is more speech (Whitney v. California, 1927: Brandeis J); thus there is the possibility of starting a counteractive cascade. Counteracting social forces may have a calming influence by suppressing information about dangerous encounters and reinforcing information about benign ones (Sunstein, 1999: 741). In order to do this however, a disproportionately high amount of positive criticism or information is needed. Following the principles of loss aversion, 'people ascribe additional negative value to an outcome if it represents a negative change from the status quo' (Noll and Krier, 1990: 752). Although the following information is derived from team performance and feedback, it is argued that it applies in a universal perspective. Following the work of Losada and Heaphy (2004: 747), it is argued that a positive to negative ration of 5.6:1 will produce more effective results at countering inefficient or negative availability cascades. Thus a certain measure of negative comments is still effectively required (Zenger and Folkman, 2013: 1). The generality of the findings is seen as it abides by similar results produced by (Gottman 1994: 331) who found the identical ratio applied to married couples.

However, this is not to say that a correctional cascade 'will necessarily provide a corrective' (Kuran and Sunstein, 1999:750), especially one of similar proportions; primarily because cascades are hard to control. Individuals do not process rumours in a neutral way (Allport and Postman, 1947: 182. Cited in Sunstein(a), 2009: 45). Exposure to balanced or contrasting information is argued to increase commitment or intense belief which produces polarisation closer towards initial perceptions (Ross, 1975:880). This is known as biased assimilation, and thus may produce self-defeating results (Sunstein(a), 2009:45). The theory is that people process information in a way that fits with their own predictions (Taber, 2008: 3), biased assimilation is partly produced by individuals' desire to reduce cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957: 23); as people seek out and believe information that is pleasant to learn and thus avoid and dismiss information that is inconvenient (Sunstein(a), 2009:50). In addition, 'people will have a stronger conviction to follow the same direction from where they began as a result of deliberation' (Sunstein(b), 2009: 22). The two essential preconditions include: strong prior beliefs and skewed trust; 'when people's beliefs are weak and when they trust both sides, they will learn from what they read and hear'; individuals who begin with no commitment are more prone to balanced information (Sunstein(a), 2009: 52). Obtaining the support of a rival respected authority is argued to produce a solution to the above restrictions, however this in reality this may not be possible.

Therefore the situation may be resolved from the direct viewpoint of the media. However, it has been found that information and memes undergo emotional selection, and that 'they evoke an emotional reaction that is selected and shared in people' (Bell and Sternberg, 2001: 1029). Research found by Bell and Sternberg (2001: 1028) indicated that the control for information on truth and usefulness showed that individuals were willing to pass stories that elicited feelings of disgust, and the higher levels of disgust produced significantly more effective results; in particular regarding disgust motives, thus linking to the theories of Taylor and Fiske (1981). From a practical perspective the media may thus not wish to publish positive stories. In addition, Frank and Cook (1995: 192) maintain that the media incur significant penalties if the company falls behind rivals when reporting breaking news. Because a good relative position in the media hierarchy translates into disproportionately large profit differentials, a media outlet that exercises caution in reporting a frightening story may find itself a huge, possibly irreversible, competitive disadvantage (Ibid; Kuran and Sunstein, 1999:750). Facing a prisoners' dilemma with respect to sensational stories, it has every reason to compete aggressively to report sensationalistic stories as rapidly as possible (Kuran and Sunstein, 1999:50).

Alternatively if the media will not be reconciled, a different approach is to tackle from a legislative perspective. Through risk oversight, Noll and Krier (1990:774) maintain regulatory procedures are best initiated after the issue has lost its political salience, ensuring 'politicians to lash themselves to the mast and wait out temporary siren calls'. Such an approach endorses the 'strike whilst the iron is cold belief', however Noll and Krier (Ibid) maintain this only happens 'when there is a protracted process and an understaffed agency'. Kuran and Sunstein (1999: 753; 757) argues to impose a cost benefit analysis, and in his most recent publication 'Simpler' (2013: 4), Sunstein recounts his practice of cost effective techniques such as the 'use of plain language, readable summaries of complex rules and the elimination of costly unjustified requirements'. However it does not appear that such an approach is being taken into account (Gill, 2009: 191); particularly as officials seek to secure 're-election and effectively adopt policies with that end in mind' (Noll and Krier, 1990: 773). Alternatively, the allocation of more resources and statutory authority to public bodies that promote balanced information regarding asylum seekers may provide a beneficial solution, however such authorities are in place and has been criticised by the UNHCR (2006: 16) for their apparent failure at reacting quick enough to counter myths particularly in their infancy.


This paper has illustrated the inherent problems and provided for potential solutions regarding the dangerousness of misinformation and misrepresentations that availability cascades create regarding asylum law. Primarily, the behavioural instruments: availability heuristic and cascade provided causal reasoning for the Media's use of hostile imagery regarding asylum seekers, and the detrimental impact on legislative policy. However, the emergence of practical solutions were not proven as successfully. Therefore it is advisable for the Government and legislative initiators to device and have a profound awareness for behavioural economic aspects, and implement other principles for legislative methods.