What is a Moral Panic?
A. A moral panic is characterized by the feeling held by a substantial number of members of a
given society, that 'evil-doers' pose a threat to the society and to the moral order as a
consequence of their behaviour. Therefore, they believe "something should be done" about the
'evil-doers' and their behaviour. William J. Goode
B. An exaggerated outburst of public concern over the morality and behaviour of a group in
society. Stuart Hall et. al.
C. A moral panic, an overreaction of the mass media, police and local community leaders to
delinquent offences that are in fact relatively trivial, both in terms of the nature of the offence
and the number of people involved. Albert Cohen.
The Sociological Context of Moral Panics
Moral panics are not a new phenomenon. The actions of certain segments of society, most
notably youths, have often been seen as immoral and threatening to the accepted norms and
patterns found within mainstream culture. The key elements or stages in a moral panic are:
Someone or something is defined as a threat to normal values or interests.
The threat is depicted in a sterotypical form by the media.
There is rapid build up of media interest that promotes public concern
Authorities or opinion makers respond to the percieved threat
The panic recedes or results in social changes.
Cohen used the term 'moral panic' to characterize the reactions of the media, the public, and
agents of social control to youth disturbances.
The impaact of media presentations/reporting of crime and deviance can lead to:
1. Crime Amplification
2. Societal reaction
Research conducted on the incidence of moral panics indicate that the media's reporting of
deviance may lead to a process of deviance amplification.Deviance amplification according to
Stuart Hall et. al can lead to moral panic followed by policing tactics, which can lead to riots
What is Deviance Amplification?
The term deviance amplification refers to the unintended outcome of moral panics or of social
policies designed to prevent or reduce deviance.
Identification of deviant act by police, politician, media ------>Attention of moral entrepreneurs
& media attracts new recruits
------> Public's expectation of the required standard of behaviour
-----> resulting in the amplification of the deviant behaviour
The 1971 work of Jock Young entitled "The Drugtakers" highlights the role of the media in the
amplification of deviance. "(The) moral panic over drug taking results in setting up of police
drug squads, which in turn produces an increase in drug related arrests". These arrests are not
necessarily the result of increased drug abuse, but rather refelects increased police crack down on
drug abusers. According to Young this produces a fantasy crime wave.
Two types of amplification occurs as a result of such actions:
* Amplification of deviant behaviour
* Amplification in the number of people arrested for such behaviour.
What is the ultimate result of Moral Panics?
Social change is the ultimate result of moral panic. The amplification of the criminal act or
deviant behaviour, draws the attention of the relevant authoritites who in turn take stringent
measures to deal with the problem to ensure that it does not occur in such magnanimous
proportions in the future. For example the development of the Crime Stoppers initative in
Trinidad and Tobago, following the spate of kidnappings in the period 2001-2002, which posed a
national threat to the citizenry of that territory.