A moral panic is defined by Cohen as 'a condition, episode, person or group or persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests '. In other words, a moral panic is an exaggerated reaction of fear towards a group or issue that causes panic in society, felt and reacted to by the public, media, police, and politicians etc. An example of a moral panic would be the increased fear over knife crime in Britain especially over the last few years. A folk devil is the group/issue at the heart of the panic, which are condemned, feared, labelled and/or blamed.
An example of a folk devil would be youths, in relation to knife crime, terrorist, or 'mods and rockers 'established in the 1960s. These moral panics and folk devils are created and exacerbated by 'moral crusaders ', the media is most likely the biggest agency that does this. Media reports often greatly exaggerate certain and specific areas of crime or deviance that are aimed to be a moral panic, and to victimize certain groups as folk devils. It reports on, for example, the alleged rising number of knife related crimes, and how a high percentage of youths in a neighbourhood near you are carrying a knife, even if this is a fallacy.
This increase in media attention brings about a what is called a deviancy amplification spiral . This consists of a combination of contributing factors, the increased media attention brings about a heightened sense of public fear, resulting in a real increase in crime, either from the folk devils in question or from copycats, which in turn brings about a police reaction, creating a vicious circle of self-fulfilling prophecies, and the fear and media attention only increases the situation, this spiral also results in these panics lasting a lot longer than perhaps they should.
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The media uses the weapon of fear to stimulate moral panics, they give the view that firstly these deviant groups offer a threat to the norms, values and attitudes of the majority of society, and that a change will be brought about to people's lives as these cannot be controlled. The media also gives credence to the view that moral standards are declining, and by exaggerating the crime paints the portrait of a country falling into a downward spiral.
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