Moral panic

A moral panic is a widespread feeling of fear, often an irrational one, that some evil person or thing threatens the values, interests, or well-being of a community or society.[1][2][page needed] It is "the process of arousing social concern over an issue,"[3] usually perpetuated by moral entrepreneurs and the mass media, and exacerbated by politicians and lawmakers.[1][3]

Witch-hunts are an example of mass behavior potentially fueled by moral panic. 1555 German print.

Stanley Cohen, who developed the term, states that moral panic happens when "a condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests."[4]:1 While the issues identified may be real, the claims "exaggerate the seriousness, extent, typicality and/or inevitability of harm."[4] The concept of moral panic can now be found in several disciplines, including sociology and criminology, media studies, and cultural studies.[5]

Examples of moral panic include the belief in widespread abduction of children by predatory pedophiles;[6][7][8] belief in ritual abuse of women and children by satanic cults;[9] and concerns over the effects of music lyrics.[10] Some moral panics can become embedded in standard political discourse, which include concepts such as "Red Scare"[11] and terrorism.[12]

It differs from mass hysteria, which is closer to a psychological illness rather than a sociological phenomenon.[13]