moral panic

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moral panic

an exaggerated, media-amplified, social reaction to initially relatively minor acts of social DEVIANCE, e.g. social disturbances associated with MODS AND ROCKERS (S. Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics, 1972). Such an overreaction by media, police, courts, governments and members of the public in ‘labelling’ and drawing attention, far from leading to an elimination of this behaviour, tends to amplify it. It does so by constructing role models for others to follow or by publicizing unruly or unsocial behaviour which might otherwise attract little attention. Some theorists also suggest that moral panics are encouraged by governments as useful in mobilizing political support by creating a common ‘threat’ (see Hall et al., Policing the Crisis, 1978). See also DEVIANCE AMPLIFICATION, LABELLING THEORY.