Go to any news website right now and you will see at least one article on terrorism against the west – in particular, ISIS and the religious war that is raging in the Middle East. The new current trend, however, is the moral panic over young people who are allegedly being ‘seduced’ by ISIS and becoming active participants in this war.
Charles Krinsky gives us a succint definition of moral panic, describing it as “an episode, often triggered by alarming media stories and reinforced by reactive laws and public policy, of exaggerated or misdirected public concern, anxiety, fear, or anger over a perceived threat to social order.” So, essentially, any controversial or awe-inspiring news story can be picked up and help whip the masses into a frenzy. Titles such as “Fresh-faced westerners are being lulled into terrorism by ISIS propaganda” (here) are perfect examples of how a controversial topic and snappy title can create a moral panic.
“Rousing public fears” (Krinsky 2013) means big business for media outlets and combining the already heightened fear the mass audience has with terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks (Baran 2008) with the vulnerability of children, children who are deemed ‘ours’ with such tags as ‘western’, will definitely rouse that public fear. This anxiety becomes misdirected when the media manipulates the story in a way that exaggerates the facts of the story to create interest in a story that, if just the facts were displayed, may not be as interesting.
I am not in any way trying to downplay or discredit these news stories, I believe it is in the public’s interest that such reports are accessible, it is the language and imagery used that draw the red flags. The blatant appeal to the audience’s emotions and very protective nature we have regarding children (Beder 1998) will, if the stories continue at a high volume, create a form of moral panic. Take, for example, this image –
Published on major news websites, including The Daily Mail UK and The New York Daily News, this photograph – taken as a screenshot from an Al Qaeda Training video – was meant to shock audiences into a response. Scholars have argued, however, that this large-scale response can actually work in favor of the large terrorist organizations who actively want to incite fear in the western media. “for terrorists, the media functions as a tool to shrink the power asymmetry between them and the entity they fight against in an actual and ideological warfare, create an atmosphere of fear and suspicion, legitimize their acts, and reach greater audiences.” (Bilgen 2012).
Moral panic is not just a cultural phenomena, it is a powerful tool that can help sell newspapers, spread false information and give massive amounts of attention to causes and events that may not deserve such magnification.
Baran J 2008, ‘Terrorism and the Mass Media after Al Qaeda: A Change of Course?’, Review, <http://www.review.upeace.org/index.cfm?opcion=0&ejemplar=7&entrada=63>, Accessed: 19/04/15.
Bilgen A, ‘Terrorism and the Media: A Dangerous Symbiosis‘, E-International Relations Students, July 22 2012, <http://www.e-ir.info/2012/07/22/terrorism-and-the-media-a-dangerous-symbiosis/> Accessed: 19/04/15
Beder S, ‘A Community View’, Caring for Children in the Media Age, Papers from a national conference, edited by John Squires and Tracy Newlands, New College Institute for Values Research, Sydney, 1998, pp. 101-111.
Krinsky, C 2013, ‘The Moral Panic Concept’, Introduction, pp.1. Available from: <https://www.ashgate.com/pdf/SamplePages/Ashgate-Research-Companion-to-Moral-Panics-Intro.pdf> > Accessed: 19/0415.
Author Unknown 2015, Fresh-faced westerners are being lulled into terrorism by ISIS propaganda, News.com.au, March 13 2015, <http://www.news.com.au/national/fresh-faced-westerners-are-being-lulled-into-terrorism-by-isis-propaganda/story-fncynjr2-1227261538227> Accessed: 19/04/15