What Contributes to a Moral Panic and Whether or Not You Believe the "Panic" Is Realistic in the Case of Coronavirus
The deaths are mounting. The end is nowhere in sight. As the number of cases and the number of places being infected by the novel coronavirus grows, everyone from Wall Street to the man on the street seems rattled. But how much of the fear is being driven more by emotions than facts?
Genetic analyses have confirmed it has a recent natural origin (between the end of November and the beginning of December) and that, although viruses live by mutating, its mutation rate may not be very high.
Alongside breeding fissiparous societies, multi-media platforms can be wielded to engineer crises. Historically, panics require the mass media to generate sufficient concern and indignation. Social media expand the pathways of panic production. As detailed below, by allowing ordinary netizens to identify and sanction transgression, they unleash participatory, crowd-sourced panics (Morgan J, Shaffer K. (2017). Additionally, as architectures of amplification, their structural features can be commandeered to promote moral contests that are surreptitious, automated, and finely calibrated in their transmission and targeting. Conventional wisdom suggests that panics are spearheaded by seasoned and advantageously positioned activists and elites. By expanding capacities of media production and distribution, digital communications permit citizens to directly publicize issues and promote collective action. Typically this has been associated with amateur news-making and attempts to document injustice and promote transparency and accountability but scholars have recently documented opposing trends, where social media are appropriated to define and enforce public morality (Tanz J. (2017). As lay actors increasingly participate in the exposure and sanctioning of deviance, distinctions between the media, the public and moral entrepreneurs are blurring, ensuring that panics stem from unorthodox sources and display new discursive and interactional contours.
The fifth and final set of actors, the public, is the most important player in the creation of a moral panic. Public agitation or concern over the folk devils is the central element of a moral panic. A moral panic only exists to the extent that there is an outcry from the public over the alleged threat posed by the folk devils. Moreover, the success of politicians, law enforcers and the media in precipitating and sustaining a moral panic is ultimately contingent upon how successfully they fuel concern and outrage toward the folk devils among the public.
Monahan T. (2010) Surveillance in the Time of Insecurity. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Morgan J, Shaffer K. (2017) Sockpuppets, secessionists, and Breitbart. Medium, 31
Powell A, Stratton G, Cameron R. (2018) Digital Criminology: Crime and Justice in Digital Society. London: Routledge.
Powers E. (2017) My news feed is filtered? Awareness of news personalization among college students. Digital Journalism 5(10): 1315–1335.
Szablewicz M. (2010) The ill effects of ‘opium for the spirit’: A critical cultural analysis of China’s internet addiction moral panic. Chinese Journal of Communication 3(4): 453–470.
Tanz J. (2017) Journalism fights for survival in the post-truth era.