Social Media Makes Moral Panics Easier to Foment

Clutching Pearls

If you want to understand some of my dissatisfaction about early 21st century life, I direct you to the Moral Panic. Social media has made it trivially easy to whip up moral panic. Hell some baby boomer feeds I see on social media are nothing but moral panic every waking hour of the day.

From another source on moral panic:

Central to the moral panic concept is an argument that public concern or fear over an alleged social problem is mutually beneficial to state officials—that is, politicians and law enforcement authorities—and the news media. The relationship between state officials and the media is symbiotic in that politicians and law enforcement need communication channels to distribute their rhetoric and the media need tantalizing news content to attract a wide audience which, in turn, attracts advertisers. 

You don’t say? The news media isn’t as relevant as it used to be, but when it comes to fomenting a good old fashioned moral panic, nothing beats social media in its effectiveness.

Moral panics arise when distorted mass media campaigns are used to create fear, reinforce stereotypes and exacerbate pre-existing divisions in the world, often based on race, ethnicity and social class. 

Additionally, moral panics have three distinguishing characteristics.  First, there is a focused attention on the behavior, whether real or imagined, of certain individuals or groups that are transformed into what Cohen referred to as “folk devils” by the mass media. This is accomplished when the media strip these folk devils of all favorable characteristics and apply exclusively negative ones. 

Folk devils, terrorists, what’s the difference?

Finally, public hysteria over a perceived problem often results in the passing of legislation that is highly punitive, unnecessary, and serves to justify the agendas of those in positions of power and authority. 

Social media isn’t really generating anything we haven’t seen before. But I worry greatly about whether it’s democrat or anti-democratic. I’m starting to believe that social media is an anti-democratic force, largely because it makes it easier for political elites to manipulate public opinion and squelch the opinions of “folk devils.”

12 thoughts on “Social Media Makes Moral Panics Easier to Foment”

  1. I would say the opposite about social media being a tool of the elites. It’s the one medium we have where an average person can say something and thousands of people can read it in a few minutes. That’s why they’ve wanted to censor it, deplatform people, etc. Facebook and Youtube have been big wins for the pro gun movement and culture. We just need to stay alive on them now and keep pushing forward.

    1. Yes, and no.

      The issue is that they’ve learned how to shape traffic to make our voices less audible in the overall din, and to make their voices significantly more audible.

      At this point, if you expect to get your message out via sites like FB and YT, you’re painfully naive at best.

    2. I agree. Social media has been the biggest reason we have pushed forward gun rights. Sure the gun control crowd uses it too, but its not as helpful to them as to us. That’s because they already have the mass media pushing gun control. On social media, there is no one side. And that’s exactly why, as you side, the movement to deplatform has formed.

  2. I think we made a big mistake when we gave up the distributed nature of the Internet and put it in the hands of a few very big companies. If anything will save us from this, it’ll end up being federated systems.

    1. In related news, the Koch network has launched an effort to protect Googleface from the state AGs. They have really gone over to the dark side. I suppose it was inevitable given their partnership with Soros. The state AGs are probably engaged in extortion but anything that hurts the tech oligarchs is a plus.

      1. They are libertarians, and have libertarian views on monopolies. I believe those views are wrong, but that’s what the Koch’s believe.

        1. “They are libertarians. . .”

          Allow me to say, in the most respectful way possible, “BULLSHIT!”

          For being “libertarians” they sure have funded an awful lot of anti-libertarian groups, and their apparent standard has always been, if a group’s agenda may help elect legislators who will be good for their businesses, what’s a little authoritarianism on other issues among friends?

          If there is a subject to not get me started on, it is that gun rights people need to get a handle on the concept of “front groups.” The levels of naivete’ I’ve seen over the decades has positively astounded me. Especially when I was among the most naive.

  3. “I’m starting to believe that social media is an anti-democratic force, largely because it makes it easier for political elites to manipulate public opinion and squelch the opinions of “folk devils.””

    No sh**. Since when did ANYTHING not end up being manipulated to the benefit of the elites?

    It’s the golden rule at work. He who has the gold, makes the rules.

  4. Those are all excellent points, but the real trick is to understand that it’s not just Those Guys who utilize things like “Moral Panic” as a tactic, but also the guys who are manipulating your own opinions. Sometimes the trick lies in who catches your ear first.

    The best “self-help” book I ever read — over and over — was “The True Believer” by Eric Hoffer. Any “activist” who can’t find themselves described in it somewhere, has no self-awareness whatsoever.

    1. “The best “self-help” book I ever read. . .”

      I just thought I should make clear that The True Believer wasn’t intended as that, but as an analysis of “mass movements” and those who lead and participate in them. It was written very shortly after the ascent of both the fascist and Bolshevik movements. But it was very insightful as to the motivations of individuals who get caught up in movements, and almost by definition, that defines anyone who has ever been an “activist” of any kind.

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