American[ edit ] Many sociologists have pointed out the differences between definitions of a moral panic as described by American versus British sociologists. In addition to pointing out other sociologists who note the distinction, Kenneth Thompson has characterized the difference as American sociologists tending to emphasize psychological factors while the British portray "moral panics" as crises of capitalism. Mugging, the State and Law and Order , Stuart Hall and his colleagues studied the public reaction to the phenomenon of mugging and the perception that it had recently been imported from American culture into the UK.
Employing Cohen's definition of 'moral panic', Hall et al. Crime statistics , in Hall's view, are often manipulated for political and economic purposes; moral panics could thereby be ignited to create public support for the need to " Cohen used the term "moral panic" to characterize the reactions of the media, the public, and agents of social control to youth disturbances. According to Cohen, these groups were labeled as being outside the central core values of consensual society and as posing a threat to both the values of society and society itself, hence the term "folk devils".
One of these is of the term "panic" itself, as it has connotations of irrationality and a lack of control. Cohen maintains that "panic" is a suitable term when used as an extended metaphor. He further argued that moral panic gives rise to the folk devil by labeling actions and people. Transmitting the images — transmitting the claims by using the rhetoric of moral panics. Breaking the silence and making the claim. Characteristics[ edit ] Moral panics have several distinct features.
According to Goode and Ben-Yehuda, moral panic consists of the following characteristics: Hostility — Hostility toward the group in question increases, and they become "folk devils". A clear division forms between "them" and "us".
Consensus — Though concern does not have to be nationwide, there must be widespread acceptance that the group in question poses a very real threat to society. It is important at this stage that the "moral entrepreneurs" are vocal and the "folk devils" appear weak and disorganized. Disproportionality — The action taken is disproportionate to the actual threat posed by the accused group. Volatility — Moral panics are highly volatile and tend to disappear as quickly as they appeared because public interest wanes or news reports change to another narrative.
Cohen's idea of the "folk devil"  and epidemics can be compared because of their role in spreading mass panic and fear. The intense concentration on hygiene emerged, before the 20th century, with a medical belief referred to as miasma theory , which states that disease was the direct result of the polluting emanations of filth: The Great Stink of was blamed on miasma, along with reoccurring cholera epidemics during the Victorian era. Fixation on the switchblade as the symbol of youth violence, sex, and delinquency resulted in demands from the public and Congress to control the sale and possession of such knives.
Increase in crime[ edit ] Research shows that fear of increasing crime is often the cause of moral panics. Japanese jurist Koichi Hamai explains how the changes in crime recording in Japan since the s caused people to believe that the crime rate was rising and that crimes were getting increasingly severe. Video games and violence[ edit ] Main article: Video game controversy There have been calls to regulate violence in video games for nearly as long as the video game industry has existed, with Death Race a notable early example.
The industry attracted controversy over violent content and concerns about effects they might have on players, generating frequent media stories drawing connections between video games and violent behavior as well as a number of academic studies reporting conflicting findings about the strength of correlations.
Supreme Court ruled that legally restricting sales of video games to minors would be unconstitutional and called the research presented in favor of regulation "unpersuasive". War on drugs[ edit ] Some critics have pointed to moral panic as an explanation for the War on Drugs. In the s and later, some groups, especially fundamentalist Christian groups, accused the games of encouraging interest in sorcery and the veneration of demons.
Satanic ritual abuse[ edit ] Main article: Satanic ritual abuse Also known as the "Satanic Panic", this was a series of moral panics regarding Satanic ritual abuse that originated in the United States and spread to other English-speaking countries in the s and s, and led to a string of wrongful convictions.
The Latest Moral Panic" was prompted by the growing interest of medical sociologists in AIDS , as well as that of UK health care professionals working in the field of health education. It took place at a time when both groups were beginning to voice an increased concern with the growing media attention and fear-mongering that AIDS was attracting.
The illness was still negatively viewed by many as either caused by, or passed on through, the gay community. Once it became clear that this wasn't the case, the moral panic created by the media changed to blaming the overall negligence of ethical standards of the younger generation both male and female , resulting in another moral panic. No distinction obtains for the agenda between 'quality' and 'tabloid' newspapers, or between 'popular' and 'serious' television.
This theory was debunked by numerous experts. Sex offenders[ edit ] The media narrative of a sex offender highlighting egregious offenses as typical behavior of any sex offender, and media distorting the facts of some cases,  has led legislators to attack judicial discretion ,  making sex offender registration mandatory based on certain listed offenses rather than individual risk or the actual severity of the crime, thus practically catching less serious offenders under the domain of harsh sex offender laws.
In the s and s, there have been instances of moral panics in the UK and the US related to colloquial uses of the term pedophilia to refer to such unusual crimes as high-profile cases of child abduction. Human trafficking[ edit ] Many critics of contemporary anti-prostitution activism argue that much of the current concern about human trafficking and its more general conflation with prostitution and other forms of sex work have all the hallmarks of a moral panic. They further argue that this moral panic shares much in common with the ' white slavery ' panic of a century earlier as prompted passage of the Mann Act.
Suicide communities[ edit ] So called "groups of death" literal translation hypothetical communities encouraging minors to commit suicide in alternative reality game form. As many other moral panics this one have been started with an article in a newspaper. Some people consider it as a hoax with the objective to increase approval to Internet censorship in societies.
Some governments have taken legislative actions strengthening internet censorship and introducing new felonies in the wake of the panic.
Criticism[ edit ] Paul Joosse has argued that while classic moral panic theory styled itself as being part of the 'sceptical revolution' that sought to critique structural functionalism, it is actually very similar to Durkheim 's depiction of how the collective conscience is strengthened through its reactions to deviance in Cohen's case, for example, 'right-thinkers' use folk devils to strengthen societal orthodoxies.
In his analysis of Donald Trump 's electoral victory, Joosse reimagines moral panic in Weberian terms, showing how charismatic moral entrepreneurs can at once deride folk devils in the traditional sense while avoiding the conservative moral recapitulation that classic moral panic theory predicts. The problem with this argument is that there is no way to measure what a proportionate reaction should be to a specific action. The idea that a social problem should correspond with some objective criteria of harm, but is a moral panic when it does not, is a 'constructionism of the gaps' line of explanation.
They also suggest that the "points of social control" that moral panics used to rest on "have undergone some degree of shift, if not transformation. The public are not sufficiently gullible to keep accepting the latter and allowing themselves to be manipulated by the media and the government.
Public concern is whipped up only for the purpose of being soothed, which produces not panic but the opposite, comfort and complacency. Using as an example a peaceful and lawful protest staged by local mothers against the re-housing of sex-offenders on their estate, Thompson and Williams show how the sensationalist demonization of the protesters by moral panic theorists and the liberal press was just as irrational as the demonization of the sex offenders by the protesters and the tabloid press.
The revisions are compatible with the way in which Cohen theorizes panics in the third Introduction to Folk Devils and Moral Panics.