Scroll through Google News having searched for ‘Drone’ on any given day, and you’ll be faced with a list of articles from around the world. Drones are making headlines everywhere but, more often than not, it’s for all the wrong reasons.
Whether it’s another near miss with a manned aircraft, a case of voyeurism or a foiled prison drone delivery plot, negative stories involving the technology are much more common than positive ones.
So why is it that drones get such bad press? Why are stories in the media so overwhelmingly negative when we know for a fact that drones are saving lives around the world and having a significant impact across a range of industries?
They tap into our futuristic fears
One major reason is that they tap into the public’s preconceptions. Fear sells and generates clicks, so if you can attach negative connotations like danger and ‘Big Brother’to a certain technology, any story that involves it is going to get attention.
But delving deeper, you can see why drones are an easy target for that kind of scrutiny. They don’t sound very nice. They don’t look very appealing. And worst of all, they buzz around seemingly with a mind of their own, like overgrown robotic mosquitoes.
So with that in mind you can understand the negative predisposition people feel towards the technology.
Which is where negative media becomes self-perpetuating. The more people hear about the dangers drones pose, the recklessness with which they are used and the criminal situations they are involved with, the less likely the worse the situation gets.
It’s a vicious circle.
One of the major issues people have with drone technology is the same fear that applies to self-driving cars and autonomous systems in general. There is a lack of trust. Without an obvious pilot in the cockpit (which would be impractical to say the least with a drone) there is a lack of accountability. Who is controlling that thing and how?
Which means many people’s first impression of a drone is seeing one flying nearby, but not having any idea who is controlling it.
With anonymity comes concern. If it doesn’t have an obvious pilot then it must be dangerous. It’s human nature to be suspicious of something when you can’t understand its motives, after all. Unless the pilot is present and close enough to let you know what’s going on, that same factor is going to apply to most drone flights.
Fear of the unknown
On the one hand, the rise of drones has given us a glimpse into a robot dystopia, where autonomous vehicles buzz around the skies, monitor us from above and generally make our lives a misery.
But for most people, the fear and suspicion of drone technology stem from something much more innate: the unknown.
The general public isn’t particularly well-informed on the benefits of drone technology, on what they are capable of and on what they definitely aren’t capable of.
Are they dangerous? Are they spying on me? How reliable are they? Are they reading my pin code from afar? Are they stalking me? These are all legitimate questions if you’re not aware of what the technology is being used for.
The solution is obviously a case of education, of highlighting the many positive use cases. The best way for this to happen is for pilots on the ground to make themselves known and be open about what they are doing. Fear and doubt will melt away as soon as the reason for flight is explained.
They put power in anybody’s hands
The final reason that drones get bad press is because they are powerful, affordable and far beyond anything that’s come before in terms of capability.
This means that, unfortunately, they can easily be harnessed for malicious purposes and criminality. Already we’ve seen contraband smuggled into prisons using drones, weaponized models used on the battlefield, and suspected deliberate interference at major airports.
This is scary. It’s also likely to get worse and more sophisticated in the future. But that doesn’t mean that the current levels of negative publicity are justified.
It’s clear that the industry as a whole needs a huge PR effort, particularly at a time when regulations are shifting and legislators risk being swayed more by public opinion than by evidence.
It’s unlikely that the PR the industry needs will come through media channels, who will always skew towards the negative. So really it’s down to the community to speak directly to people who do raise concerns.
And, of course, the many companies doing remarkable work with drones. Keep doing what you’re doing, folks.