Moral panic (dictionary)

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BoyWiki Dictionary: Moral panic
n (Sociological terminology)

¹ A semi-spontaneous or media-generated mass movement based on the perception that an individual, group, community, or culture is dangerously deviant and poses a menace to society.

² A public outcry often resulting in a "witch hunt".

A moral panic is an intense feeling expressed in a population about an issue that appears to threaten the social order.[1] The term first appeared in the English language in 1830 in The Quarterly Christian Spectator. Moral panics are in essence controversies that involve arguments and social tension, and in which disagreement is difficult because the matter at its center is taboo.[2]

A moral panic is characterized not only by widespread public fear, but also fear that is wildly exaggerated and wrongly directed. Such fear-mongering can in turn produce excessive and ill-considered legislative responses, with lawmakers adopting new policies that "may cause harm in areas having nothing to do with the original problem and that divert resources away from measures which might genuinely assist in protecting children.'"[3] Public opposition to pedophilia may encourage cohesiveness and support within the targeted group, which could ultimately encourage pedophilic activity rather than prevent it.

The media have long operated as agents of moral indignation, even when they are not consciously engaged in crusading or muckraking. Simply reporting the facts (as well as doing so in a manner that grossly and negatively exaggerates the facts) can be enough to generate concern, anxiety or panic.[4] [5]


  1. Jones, M, and E. Jones. (1999). Mass Media. London: Macmillan Press
  2. Kuzma, Cindy. "Rights and Liberties: Sex, Lies, and Moral Panics". AlterNet. September 28, 2005; accessed September 5, 2008.
  3. Jenkins, Philip (1998). Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America. pp. 6-7. 
  4. Cohen, S., p.16
  5. Moral panic (Wikipedia)

See also