smalldeer: (Default)
bug ([personal profile] smalldeer) wrote2015-05-12 01:48 pm
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moral panics & developing media

In 1972, Stanley Cohen tied the idea of moral panics to the way "a condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to be come defined as a threat to societal values and interests" - in other words, a folk devil - something that causes a significant part of the population to become incensed at or afraid of the idea that culture as they know it might change for the worse, often regardless of the subject's actual threat level.

In the 1960s-70s, the easiest examples would have been the Teddy Boys or hippies. In modern society, however, the definition of a folk devil is arguably no longer so cut-and-dry. With the rise of the internet as an easy method of connecting with other like-minded individuals globally, hundreds upon thousands of micro-communities have formed (I use the term loosely, since often these communities may consist of tens of thousands of members at a time and often overlap), and each has its own set of cultural values and norms - quite often with fairly rigid standards for acceptance.

Naturally, countless articles and blog posts and news reports have been angrily thrown out to the world about this new digital age - ironically, many of them existing solely or primarily online...

While some studies included in published articles seem to suggest nay-sayers are correct to be apprehensive, the fact that they seem to be conducted by people who don't quite understand how the internet functions as a network tends to reflect badly on the idea that they have anything legitimate to fear - and thus, the perceived folk devil remains just that. Internet Paradox: A Social Technology That Reduces Social Involvement and Psychological Well-Being? is an article by Robert Kraut in which it's stated that use of the internet was associated with "declines in the size of their social circle", when in fact this writer has a strong suspicion that the more extended part of that social circle simply migrated online (and, likely, expanded further).

One of Ajit Johnson's #This_Generation originals.
An edit made by an unknown Tumblr user (since removed when Johnson threw a paddy about it).

Backlash from digital citizens hit an amusing high this year when Ajit Johnson's art piece #This_Generation hit the web and was immediately met with full-scale criticism as internet users seized the opportunity to have fun with the concept and ridicule the artist at the same time by creating their own, reversed, versions of the posters.

On a personal level, this blogger very much doubts there's all that much to have a moral panic about - but it nonetheless exists, and people's arguments back and forth will no doubt serve as an ongoing source of interest and study for anyone tracking cultural development in the digital age for years to come.


  • Cohen, S. (1972). Folk devils and moral panics. London: MacGibbon and Kee.
  • Kraut, R., Patterson, M., Lundmark, V., Kiesler, S., Mukophadhyay, T. and Scherlis, W. (1998). Internet paradox: A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being?. American Psychologist, 53(9), pp.1017-1031.

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