Somewhat predictably, this essay opens with a quote from Stan Cohen's 'Folk Devils and Moral Panics...' (2002) so as to define the key term. It would, after all suggest naivety to not begin by acknowledging one of the topic's founding fathers.
"Societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of moral panic. A condition, episode, person, or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are evolved or (more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates and becomes more visible." (Cohen1972)
Such a definition provides the basis for this essay in a sense that it is from here that the moral panic concept took hold of the social sciences and that which led itself to praise and criticisms alike. This text has three general sections, taking the following form; a focus on the origins of the moral panic concept, where the pioneering works of both Jock Young (1971) and Stan Cohen (2002) will be highlighted in order to identify the moral panic as a theory necessary for consideration. The consequent development and adoption of the term in the United States will further be identified through the particular writings of Goode and Ben-Yehuda (2009) who gave us clearly defined characteristics associated with an episode of moral panic as well as three models by which to typify one. This leads into the second section, discussing the emerging criticisms regarding 'moral panic'. Here, the text examines moralisation and within this, moral boundaries, multi-mediation, moral regulation and the risk society as well as touching upon criticisms of the role of the media in an episode of moral panic.
The essay then moves into its third section, regarding the potential to develop the framework by which to analyse moral panics. This is where the text turns to the conclusions made by the prior critiques as a way of evolving the concept to account for apparent pitfalls and surrounding queries in this late modern era. The late modern era, it should be mentioned is synonymous with industrial societies, modernity, late modernity and postmdernity (Thompson, 1998) and as such, will also be referred to as contemporary society or culture. So, the argument put forward by this essay proposes that whilst there are criticisms of moral panics in the surround of contemporary culture, the conclusions that can be made from relevant analyses point not towards the eradication of the moral panic concept but rather towards its development so as to account for the inherent features of contemporary society. As this essay contends, there is far greater evidence in support of the existence of moral panics in the late modern era than there is evidence in supporting the case that they cannot exist. What is needed, is reform.
The essay delves straight into 'moral panic' as a concept in its own right, to ground the reader's knowledge before critique. But, as Cohen (2002, p.xxii) explains, one could trace the origins back further and consider "the sixties fusion of labelling theory, cultural politics and critical sociology". In 1971, Jock Young had his work entitled 'The Drugtakers...' (Young, 1971) published and was actually the first to reference the term 'moral panic' (Thompson, 1998) although not in this famous work. It is now Stan Cohen who is widely considered as key in moral panic research, not to suggest Young is no longer considered, but rather that Cohen has become the sociologist most associated with the concept. This is more than likely due to his development of the term in his book 'Folk Devils and Moral Panics...', originally published in 1972, but which has since endured three editions, for this reason this essay will refer to the latest (Cohen, 2002).
Already quoted above is the definition through which Cohen (2002) begins his work. Thompson (1998) draws on this, breaking it down to note five key stages of the moral panic. In the first stage, someone or something comes to be defined as a threat to the values of society; secondly, the media portray the threat in a recognisable way. The third stage follows where concern amongst the public is aroused, linking to the fourth stage where authority figures respond. Finally, the panic either diminishes or brings about change. These stages outline the classic style moral panic which will later be developed through critique alongside the components and characteristics of moral panics detailed through the writings of Goode and Ben-Yehuda (2009, originally published in 1994).
Both Young (1971) and Cohen (2002) see the police as amplifiers of deviance, contributing to what is commonly held as the deviance amplification spiral (Krinsky, 2013; Thompson, 1998; Critcher, 2008). Another critical point of the work of Cohen (2002) in particular, is the emphasis placed on the mass media as a key agent in a moral panic, responsible for exaggeration and distortion respectively (Critcher, 2008). In tracing the origins of the 'moral panic' concept, Krinsky (2013) places the works of Young and Cohen in the 'first wave' alongside one other piece of research conducted by Hall et al (1978). They consider the mugging crisis as a moral panic in the United Kingdom. Critcher (2008) highlights that this moral panic fits the classic model almost exactly, mirroring as he goes on to say, the processual model of Cohen's (2002) work.
The processual model can be thought of in terms of providing an account of the key agents involved in a moral panic as well as the causes and consequences of the panic (Critcher, 2008). What Hall et al (1978) put forward then, is a Marxist critique of false consciousness, whereby the moral panic over muggings and in general come to be seen as 'diversionary manifestations' with the intention of maintaining the status quo (Krinsky, 2013). To put this simply, it has been perceived that Hall et al (1978) were eluding to the fact that the government used the folk devils, (young black males) as scapegoats for wider political concerns.
The processual model, to which this first wave of moral panic research adheres to, can be contrasted with the attributional model where concern lies with how problems are constructed (Critcher, 2008). Thus, this text turns to the 'second wave' of moral panic research (Krinsky, 2013) and the development of the concept in the United States. Goode and Ben-Yehuda (2009) are paramount to this development in providing five key features or characteristics of a moral panic (Goode and Ben-Yehuda, 2009; Krinsky, 2013; Garland, 2008). These are concern, over a group or category and their behaviour, leading to anxiety surrounding the group or category; hostility, against 'the enemy' and expressed through stereotypes; consensus, or a collective feeling of threat; disproportionality, that is through exaggerated figures or the fabrication of figures and so forth; and finally, volatility, which refers to the short, sharp episodes of the panic. Moreover, Goode and Ben-Yehuda (2009) go further and establish three types of moral panic model.
The first is the 'grassroots' model which sees a moral panic emerging from widespread concern within the community, the public, the grassroots. Thompson (1998, p.18) attributes this to the anxieties in the past over witches in America, noting that "there was no interest group or elite that stood to gain from engineering such fears...". The grassroots model then refers to just that, the grass; the bottom layer of society, where there is no gain from other sectors of society in bringing to light the issue. Another of the three models is the eltite-engineered (Goode and Ben-Yehuda, 2009) which suggests that the creation of a moral panic lies with political, economic and other such elites in "propaganda campaigns designed to avoid a genuine solution to a real structural problem" (Rohloff & Wright, 2010, p.407). The middle ground, as it were, and the third model, is the interest groups theory which suggests that the creation of a moral panic lies with the middle sector of society, this may include the police, media, religious groups and others which have a particular interest or concern over bringing a particular issue to light (Goode and Ben-Yehuda, 2009).
This is by no means a complete history of the 'moral panic' concept but simply an attempt to bring to light the very basic yet important aspects of the concept. It should also be noted that there are many more theoretical qualities of this model which could have been explored, much of which is discussed by Thompson (1998). Moreover, to review the validity of the statement that moral panics cannot exist in the late modern era, one needs to turn to the criticisms of the original moral panic model. As the reader might imagine, there is much literature pertaining to such a topic and so this essay will simply identify an overarching concern of moralisation, which will feed on further subjects, such as moral boundaries, regulation, multi-mediation and the risk society. The subsequent topic of the media will further be noted.
Throughout this body of the essay, the original theory that moral panics serve to clarify moral boundaries, or rather that they reaffirm moral values must be held at the forefront of one's knowledge. Goode and Ben-Yehuda (2009, p.29) assess that "moral panics are likely to "clarify the normative contours" and "moral boundaries" of the society in which they take place", attributing a clear cut distinction between 'them' and 'us'. This considers a line between morality (us) and immorality (them). To refer back to Cohen's (2002) example as a way of emphasising this point, the 'mods and rockers' were acting in an immoral fashion, distinguishing themselves from the rest of moral society (Hier, 2008; Goode and Ben-Yehuda, 2009).
However, McRobbie and Thornton (1995) highlight the breakdown of this moral distinction through their assessment that the blamed individuals or groups, the 'folk devils', now have the power to get their viewpoint across by creating "their own media to counter the biased mainstream media" (McRobbie and Thornton, 1995, p.568). Moreover, this expansion of the media and its plurality in its inclusion of counter arguments, implies a paradox of the media and of moral panics; the mass media serves to promote moral panics, contributing to exaggerated public fears, yet it also serves to represent alternative viewpoints in challenging the grounds for social control (Altheide, 2009). The original concept of the moral panic saw folk devils as demonised and marginalised from mainstream society (Cohen, 2002) and yet this assessment rejects such a view.
In addition, while the subject of the media is rife, one might turn to another criticism outside of moralisation which posits the role of the media as neglecting an active audience.
The original model of 'moral panic' saw the media as key in its creation, through sensationalist reporting and exaggeration (Cohen, 2002; Goode and Ben-Yehuda, 2009; Hier, 2008) which implied a passive audience and a fear that the mass media were turning their audience into 'zombies' (Goode and Ben-Yehuda, 2009). However, this notion of a passive audience, unchallenging of the media's attempts to incite a moral panic has been rejected as, since the middle of the twentieth century, audiences have come to be seen as active consumers of the media in an aforementioned multi-mediated society (Goode and Ben-Yehuda, 2009; McRobbie and Thornton, 1995). More than this, the way the term 'moral panic' is now used within the media suggests an uncritical, general usage, similar to that of a 'catchphrase' (Garland, 2008, p.19). This may point to a suggestion that the success of creating moral panics has diminished as the media's use of the term has become predictable, general and so, less powerful (Garland, 2008).
Furthermore, Hier (2008) inspired by the work of Hunt (1999, 2003) considers a change in the processes of moral regulation. Remembering the opening to this section of critique, the original mode of moralisation saw a distinction between the boundaries of morality and immorality which was then criticised through the blurring of those boundaries. Hier (2008, p.174) further examines that "contemporary moralization finds expression in hybrid configurations of risk and harm" emphasised through an example of everyday moralisation. That is, individual risk management as protection against harmful others; so, drinking alcohol as a form of individual risk management, in an attempt to protect oneself against the drunk driver: the harmful other (Hier, 2008). Hier (2008) employs the notion of moralisation as an everyday occurrence through risk and harm; through individualising discourses (personal responsibility) against collectivising discourses (harms to avoid). So, the boundaries between morality and immorality existing through moral panics have in a sense broken down to these changing processes of moral regulation through risk and harm. Instead of moral panics being used to collectively reaffirm moral boundaries, moral regulation has, according to Hier (2008), transcended into individual moralisation of risk and harm in the everyday.
On the other hand and in the same article, Hier (2008) relates this sense of self governance to the risk society (Beck, 1992) and its consequent critique by Ungar (2001), claiming that under the blanket of a risk society, one would expect to see an increase in moral panics. What can be gathered from this is that if, as a society, we now live in times of more prevalent risks, accompanied by technological advances (Beck, 1992), through self governance of those increased risks, an outburst of panics are likely in an attempt to contain the new prevalent risks associated with a risk society. Or as Hier (2008, p.187) puts it:
"anxieties endemic to the risk society should be understood to energize collectivizing discourses of safety and security...this can be expected to generate a greater number of panics aimed at containing ubiquitous anxieties associated with 'late modern risks'"
If one then seeks to incorporate the subject of a multi-mediated society (McRobbie and Thornton, 1995) it could be suggested how a moral panic over a certain 'risk' might emerge but further be quashed or countered in an attempt to disregard the original panic, or indeed contain it. The prevalence of the media allows for such counter views to be heard.
However Ungar (2001) critically measures the concept of a moral panic against the risk society, seemingly seeking a rejection of moral panics in the late modern era. According to Ungar (2001), as new social anxieties have emerged, the questions motivating moral panic research have lost their utility. In other words, societies change and so, the phenomena associated with outbreaks of public concern should too (Ungar, 2001). Ungar (2001) identifies that since the 1980s and through industrialisation, nuclear, chemical, biological and medical anxieties have emerged within society (something that has also been highlighted by Goode and Ben-Yehuda, 2009). This might then suggest the need to rethink the moral panic in the late modern era, replacing it perhaps with the move into a risk society. But, Thompson (1998) has also picked up on this changing site for social anxieties, (as has Garland, 2008) incorporating a greater breadth of subjects which may result in a panic.
Moreover, in identifying the risk society as a new format over moral panic research, Ungar (2001) goes on to consider how the notion of a folk devil might not hold the same meaning in the risk society, or may in fact not exist at all. The folk devil in this sense can be considered as a "foraging process, an essayed induction that must take hold (Ungar, 2001, p.281). The simile used in this depiction is that of a 'hot potato' (Ungar, 2001) whereby blame is passed from one target to another. Though Ungar (2001) gives the example of the Swine Flu scare in America in the 1970s, a more contemporary issue would be that of the recent 'horse meat' scandal. Were the supermarkets to blame?; was it the fault of the packaging companies?; or perhaps it was the responsibility of the meat suppliers. Here we see how the attribution of blame can be passed from one subject to another, unlike the individual or group singled out as a folk devil in Cohen's original model.
By entering into a discussion over the statement that moral panics cannot exist in the late modern era, this text has identified the criticisms of the moral panic concept and so, the original model. While these criticisms could be placed on a pedestal to show how moral panics cannot exist, this text rather contemplates the idea that moral panics can and do still exist but the model and framework for analysing them is in need of reform, so as to incorporate aspects integral to this late modern society. Under the banner of moralisation, for instance, there was a discussion over moral boundaries; the line between morality and immorality which McRobbie and Thornton (1995) saw as breaking down due to the multiplicity of the mass media. Our moral boundaries are no longer so clear because through the expansion of mediums, what an original marginalised folk devil could not do, they now can, and that is that they can respond to their demonisation. They can reject their negative, deviant label. Far from calling for the exclusion of moral panics in late modernity based on this movement, McRobbie and Thornton (1995) similarly assess that the model of moral panic just needs to be updated.
Still in keeping with moralisation, another discussion developed over the changing sites of moral regulation; from moral panics as collectively reaffirming moral boundaries towards individual moral regulation through the notions of risk and harm. According to Hier (2008), due to the previously stated breakdown over the moral boundaries, moral panics can no longer seek to reaffirm societies morals as they once did (Cohen, 2002). Instead there has been a shift towards personal regulation of behaviour. Once again the original model does not account for individual responses to harmful others and so should be updated to assess this, not rejected. This discussion then followed the line into the risk society whereby it was argued that self regulation of behaviour could lead to greater moral panics; a direct rejection of the statement that moral panics cannot exist in the late modern era.
However, as with any theory, there sits a counter theory. In this case, this came in the form of Sheldon Ungar (2001) who critically placed the moral panic concept up against the risk society and sought to present the risk society as a more valid concept under contemporary conditions. But while such an argument may appear grounded in valid theory, Garland (2008) pin points what this essay seeks to conclude, that while moral panics and the risk society are two separate concepts, the former suggestive of anxious disapproval of moral threats and the latter as fearful uncertainty about material hazards; societal reactions to risk may also have the consequence of questioning the morality of certain ways of life. In this sense, according to Garland (2008), it is difficult to distinguish between the two concepts. More than this however, Ungar (2001) himself reiterates that the risk society cannot completely eradicate the moral panic and so the two should hold some sort of relationship. Hence, the moral panic model should be extended to include the concept of the risk society.
One final critique of the original moral panic model stepped outside of moralisation and instead clamped down on the media. In this discussion, the transgression from a passive to an active audience of media was emphasised as a consideration of how the media's influence in creating moral panics has become weakened. This point alone would serve to suggest the need for a reform of the moral panic concept which so heavily relied on the media in the cycle of deviancy and moral panic creation. So to conclude, this essay, through discussing criticisms of the original model of the moral panic concept, puts forward an argument that the concept and framework by which to analyse episodes of 'moral panic' needs to be developed in order to account for factors embedded in this post modern society; media saturation, risk and the key agents involved are all contenders to be accepted under a new moral panic model.
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The term ‘moral panic’ can be defined as a ‘disproportional and hostile social reaction to a condition, person or group defined as a threat to societal values’. It is a term commonly associated with the media where stereotyping is represented and this leads to the demand for better social control and creating a reaction from the public eye, hence the term ‘panic’ (McLaughlin & Muncie, 2001). Hall et al. (1978) also analysed the idea of a ‘moral panic’ and suggested that when the reaction to a person or group is ‘out of proportion’ to the actual ‘threat’ and professionals in the area such as police and politicians also have a similar reaction and begin to voice solutions, rates of crime etc., in addition to the media representation of the so called ‘threat’ which becomes sensationalised and exaggerated, this is when it is appropriate to name the situation a moral panic. Cohen (1972) first looked at moral panics and stated that there are certain periods where society experiences moral panics and these could last for a lifetime or could be short-lived and forgotten. Cohen (1972) was one of the first to look at the term moral panic around Mods and Rockers in Britain and focused on the media coverage on these groups in the 1960s. The descriptions and the definitions the media used was the focus as it was the main outlet for society’s information. Cohen (1972) found that the media exaggerated statistics including the number of youths involved, the extent of the violence and the damage caused. Further distortion of events increased due to the sensational headlines and use of dramatic reporting. Cohen also found that the media used the word ‘mod’ to symbolise deviance and this symbolisation led to other events that may not have had anything to do with the current situation to be linked. Cohen continued on to describe the findings as having three common characteristics: diffusion, escalation and innovation. Diffusion is where situations in other places become associated with the original situation. Escalation is where there are demands for extreme measures to be carried out in order to minimise and exterminate the threat and innovation refers to the ‘increased powers’ for the police and courts to sort out the threat. Goode and Ben-Yehuda (1994) also identified five key features that could describe moral panics: concern, hostility, consensus, disproportionality and volatility. In other words, a situation or event occurs and sparks panic among society which leads to the person or particular social group involved being labelled as folk devils then this goes on to spur a reaction which is ‘broad and unified’ within society. This leads to the exaggeration of the situation and the potential threat it poses which is further multiplied by the media’s reporting which could spark the panic but could also eliminate it too.
When it comes to street violence, youths are widely associated with this type of deviant behaviour. A recent ‘moral panic’ which was associated with youths and street violence was actually an item of clothing: the hoodie. During the 1990s, the term became associated with the sudden appearance of a subculture or group of people named ‘chavs’, young working class youths, in the UK. This led to the use of the term ‘hoodie culture’ used both by the media and public (Marsh & Meville, 2011). It is particularly in the UK that hoodies have been reacted to in such a negative way, so much so that the item of clothing has been banned in public places such as the Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent. This banning of hoodies and other items of clothing which specifically could hide the face brought the ‘hoodie culture’ into the public’s awareness and this led to the raised concern of shoppers being weary of youths in such clothing (Marsh & Meville, 2011). The ban sparked public interest and debate and this led to the ‘meaning’ of hoodie being studied by journalists and individuals within education. McLean (2005) stated that hoodies stroked ‘fear into the heart of most people’ and Harrington (cited in McLean, 2005) on the subject of the Bluewater ban said that the ban ‘demonstrates a growing demonization’ on young people and there is an overreaction to any behaviour by these young people. This suggests that the concern over street violence involving youth can be seen as a moral panic because banning an item of clothing just because it is associated with such deviance due to the media representation of youths and what they happen to be wearing has been exaggerated which has meant that extreme measures would have to be taken to keep the public happy and enforce social control. The moral panic about hoodies according to Marsh and Meville (2011) was part of a wider concern about the anti-social behaviour of youths and, as with other panics, the reaction to this has been criticized by those within education and those working in the criminal justice system as exaggerated and unreasonable.
More than 65% of people consider youth crime is rising and experts agree there can be a connection between antisocial behaviour and serious youth crime. However, statistically, youth offending is actually falling. The number of 10-to-17-year-olds convicted or cautioned for a crime fell from 143,600 to 105,700 between 1992 and 2002 which was a drop of almost 26% (Barkham, 2005). Despite the dramatic drop in recorded crime overall, concerns about the behaviour of young people remains high, suggesting that society does not consider factual statistics when worrying about crime rates. In other words, stories of youth crime and general crime overall are sensationalised by the media and their representations of youth and descriptions used such as ‘out of control teenage gangs’. Concerns over youth crime and street violence have been consistent throughout the years as shown by Cohen (1972) for his work on Mods and Rockers. The behaviour of young people since then has caused anger about moral decline and lack of social control.
Crimes statistics show black youths, particularly young black males, commit a disproportionate amount of crime, however the media is known to sensationalise news stories and make vast exaggerations. In the early 70’s, an example of street violence that was first recorded as a ‘moral panic’ was mugging. Hall et al’s (1978) Policing the Crisis study demonstrates how the media shapes public views regarding a particular group in society. The 1970s moral panic surrounding muggings was blamed predominantly on young black men. For example, Arthur Hills was stabbed to death near Waterloo Station in London and this was one of the first crimes to be labelled as a mugging in the media. The stories in newspapers highly reported this type of crime as new and frightening. Professionals in the area such as police and judges were adamant that this was a huge threat to society. This even led to people thinking that the streets of Britain will become like those of New York or Chicago which had very high rates of street violence at the time (Hall, 1978). Hall criticised this form of reporting, stating that the panic and reaction towards these events were not understandable because in the past ‘footpads and garrotters’ had also committed violent crimes on the streets which were not labelled as muggings and therefore the idea of ‘mugging’ and ‘violent street crime’ was not new at all. Also the Home Secretary reported that ‘mugging’ was on a 129 per cent rise however Hall stated that there was no way to measure this because there was not an exact definition for this crime nor did a law apply to it. From Hall’s study on the statistics there was no evidence that violent crime was rising as fast in the time leading up to the panic. Using the nearest legal category to mugging which was ‘assault with intent to rob’, the official statistics showed a yearly rise of an average of 33.4 per cent between 1955 and 1965, but only a 14 per cent average annual increase from 1965 to 1972. This type of crime was growing more slowly as the time the panic took place then it had done so in previous decades.
Another example of a moral panic which involves street violence is the emergence of girl gangs and stories about how they ‘roam the streets randomly attacking innocent victims’. This has been a recurring story in newspaper headlines and magazines in recent years. Whilst there may be some support for these claims, the stories are likely to be a distortion of the facts; this is shown by statistics on offending patterns. A recent self-report survey found that assaults committed by females are more likely to involve a victim they know already and the victim is more predominately male rather than female (Budd et al., 2005). There is little known knowledge about the actual nature and seriousness of girls’ violent offending. It may be that assault carried out by a female is more likely to be as a result of anger or an act of self-defence, or against a police officer when confronted perhaps during a drunken night out, or parents, family members, or members of the public are more likely to bring violent acts committed by females to the attention of the police.
Outside the UK, there are other examples of moral panic and amplification by the media, for example slashing cases in Singapore. This involves Singaporean youth gang members who have recently have been reported in the media sparking fear among those living in Singapore (Palatino, 2010). The high documentation of these criminal acts is slightly exaggerated further by the mass media. These reports spark the public’s fear of being attack by youth gangs especially when high-profile cases such as the murder of Darren Ng at Downtown East was reported to occur in the evening between 5.30pm and 5.57pm which is a time period where school children would be on their way home. This further fuelled the anxiety felt by parents who were said to be already paranoid of their children making their own way to school. Moreover, there appeared to be very easy access to graphic and explicit pictures of the victim that were allowed to be released across both printed and online news outlets which sparked even more of a widespread panic of youth gang members being more brave to commit the crime again anytime during the day. Like in the UK, this ‘panic’ is slightly disproportional as updated statistics proves that crime rates in Singapore have been steadily decreasing. .
The series of attacks triggered the search for explanations on the idea of the rising of gang violence. Society aimed to explain the nature of fights taking place and whether they were random or due to revenge and the focus was also on the structure of gangs. Following the Downtown East incident, many reports talked about youth gangs- how an action as small as staring can lead to violent fights, reports also talked about why youths joined these gangs. News reports of the extreme cases reminded readers about the significant attack at Downtown East that created further concerns over gang-related violence in Singapore. News reports of being arrest were frequent to remind the society of the strict laws and the consequences of such violent acts. Although there were no specific details mentioned, the report came with comments by Minister of Home Affairs, K. Shanmugam, to assure the public tough acts were taken to tackle youth gangs. Comments by public figures like Minister of MCYS also bring public attention to at-risk youths on the importance of increase community initiatives to prevent them from gang associations. The situation of the Singapore youth slashing highly supported Goode and Ben Yehuda’s (1994) features of moral panics.
Black youth crime and the image of black youths in the media have generated considerable publicity in recent years. The recent fatal knife and gun crimes in London involving black youths were highlighted by the media which in turn produced a moral panic surrounding the issue.
In recent years there has been quite a lot of media coverage involving black youths and crime. Particularly in 2006 and 2007 there was a spate of fatal stabbings and shootings amongst black youth. For example, the deaths of Kodjo Yenga and Adam Regis in March 2007. These two murders were of huge interest to the media as it was during a period where black youth crime in London was highlighted. Kodjo Yenga was stabbed in the heart just five days after being interviewed on television about knife crime and its prevalence. Just days after this murder, Adam Regis was stabbed to death on the streets of East London on his way home after meeting with friends. These are only two examples of black youth crime that made its way into the media in 2007. There had in fact been over twenty murders involving black youths in London alone in 2007 (Okoronkwo, 2008)
It would be useful to gain an understanding of why black youth crime is such a huge issue and why it is highlighted so much in the media. News agendas and news values ultimately decide what is to be broadcasted and in what particular order. There are twelve news structures and news values that shape crime news (Jewkes, 2004). Under the news value threshold it is stated that in order for something to be deemed newsworthy it has to meet a certain level of significance. The media create moral panics according to their criteria of news values (Okorokwo, 2008). ‘Once a story has reached the required threshold it may have to meet further thresholds to stay on the agenda, the story is often kept alive due to the creation of new thresholds, some stories are used as fillers during quiet news periods and tend to be reported in waves, suggesting a widespread social problem rapidly approaching crisis point,’ (Jewkes, 2004, p.41). The media has been accused of sensationalising events surrounding violent black youth crime, attaching a level of drama making it newsworthy. This reporting of crime and deviance plays a vital role in shaping the public’s view of crime and its suspects. Eighty six percent of white homicide victims are killed by other whites, and most homicide victims know each other.
In conclusion, it seems that concern over street violence can be seen as a moral panic because overall crime statistics show that crime is actually decreasing rather than decreasing. However, in order to earn good money and sell more, the media seem to exaggerate and sensationalise every lone even to make it seem like it happens every day even if it’s a rare occurrence. A good example to support this claim was the Lee Rigby murder. One lone horrible act of violence had the public up in a panic over fears they would be hacked in the street or murdered in a similar way even though the perpetrators were caught. This goes to show how much power the media really has in terms of social control.