Hayley's Hollers

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Assessment 1 - Essay


The internet was originally used as a form of communication between academics and scientists as a way of sharing their work and ideas. However in the last twenty years the numbers of people using the internet, their type of use and the types of information being accessed and shared have changed dramatically. What was once a basic structure used for learning has now become a mixed up web of information, music, opinions and some learning of a very different kind. So we are told, the internet used to be a place for education and good clean fun of the academic type. Now the internet is portrayed as a place of corruption, illegal activity and smut. Like the internet, the term moral panic is also relatively new. It was first used “by Jock Young (1971) with reference to the reaction to drug takers in Nottinghill, it is generally associated with his colleague, Stanley Cohen (1972).” (Jones, E, Jones M, 1999, p.142) It is now common place to associate this word with issues surrounding the internet.

They come out of nowhere, rise rapidly to an outraged crescendo, then die out just as quickly. Moral panics are a phenomenon of modern Western cultures and reflect changes sweeping through those societies, people's mixed experience with new technologies and the collapse of confidence in established institutions. We can define a moral panic as a mini-controversy that temporarily outrages sections of the general public and exaggerates fears over the potential misuse of some technology or practice. (Grayson, 2004, ¶ 1)

Whilst the term moral panic is relatively new, the concept has been around for quite some time. As seen by the panic surrounding Aborigines in Australia, during colonisation and the witch hunts in America in the late 1600’s. “Moral panics of recent memory include the Joseph McCarthy anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950s and the satanic ritual abuse allegations of the 1980s.”(Wilkins, 1997, ¶ 2) The witch hunts inn the 1950’s proves to us that moral panics may reoccur in a society as it develops. As society develops, so does technology, and these developments can create huge moral panics of their own.

The internet as a technology has created moral panic throughout society, as it has emerged and developed. However that is not where things stop. Information contained within the internet has managed to create panics throughout all different facets of society and within many different people. The internet itself creates panic as it is something new and unknown to people. It is full of information, is cheap to access and these days is available just about anywhere in the world. Everywhere you go you can find an internet café or log your laptop into a wireless connection. This ease of accessibility scares many people as many of them are ill educated about the internet and to them the amount of information contained within the internet is very intimidating. Of course the biased and misinformed views of the media, relating to the internet do not help its cause among the non-internet generation. Media is persuasive and most people tend to believe everything they see and read, as they think if they can’t trust the media, then who can they trust?

Another moral panic closely related to the internet as a technology, is the behaviour of internet users. There are people creating a panic surrounding the idea that internet users are being indecently exposed, and that internet participation will change your behaviour pattern. It will make you want to kill yourself, or others, or perhaps you will develop some kind of psychosis because of the information you have gained. “Constant usage of the Internet has also created a moral panic within society.” (Encyclopaedia of New Media, 2004, ¶ 5) Many people absorb themselves with the internet, creating whole new lives for themselves online. This is creating panic, because it is though these ‘junkies’ are losing their physical identities. They are isolating themselves and losing “their sense of reality, interaction, and their personal identity.”(Encyclopaedia of New Media, 2004, ¶ 6)

There are moral panics related to the internet as a technology and then moral panics related to the information contained on the internet and its use. One such panic relating to internet information and use is the formation of what has been deemed ‘moral panic communities’. These are groups of people with similar beliefs or goals who meet on the internet, and share ideas and information. Unfortunately the ideas and information they share is cause for concern. The internet is accessible and an easy way to communicate, for many people. It is also a very easy way for negative groups to meet and coerce their ideas. These are the kinds of groups that would be placed under the term, ‘moral panic communities’. The internet is a convenient place to meet regardless of location, “for those negative groups who want to secretly plan and plot desired tasks. This can include communities who create bombs, start riots or protests”.(Encyclopaedia of New Media, 2004, ¶ 6) It is easy to see how real these groups are, when we hear of the internet and websites being helped to plot the Bali bombings, or the September 11 attack. People can sit in their own homes and plot, scheme and participate in radical groups, and as long as they continue to go about their everyday lives, no-one in any the wiser. Thus the beauty or destructive capacity of the internet. It is attacks like these that prove the existence of negative groups and their mixing over the internet, definitely does exist and it proves to us that panic is justified.

Technological based moral panics also occur. These panics are things like, the invention and spreading of computer viruses, computer hacking and Spam. These three technologies all have the power to invade a person’s privacy, and that is why concern is spreading. Sensitive information is contained, shared and accessed throughout the internet. This information may be personal, or from government or intelligence organisations. No-one wants this information shared with anyone but the named user. Computer hacking sees anyone with the expertise being able to dig into any information they want via the internet. Once the have this information they can keep it for personal use or sell it. Either way it has got into hands it was not meant for. Viruses are destructive and often vindictive. Their spreading can cause a person to lose all their personal information, research or everything they have worked for. Spam is sent via email and the majority of it is advertising. It is frustrating for the email user and an invasion of privacy, as most of the spam you receive is from people and companies who have acquired your details illegally. Laws have now been passed in regards to spam, so panic behind it has probably eased slightly, however panic surrounding viruses and hacking is still prevalent, as seen by the high amount of software being produced and sold to guard your computer against illegal and destructive activities.

Perhaps the most prevalent and longest-running moral panic of recent times is the issue of Internet pornography and how accessible it has become to children. Most children know how to use the internet in this day and age, and have access to it at home or school. Panic has occurred because of how easy it is for children to innocently stumble over pornographic websites. An internet search alone for a particular subject can drag these sites up, and pop ups are a regular occurrence on computers, many of which contain links to pornographic material. Most children will access these sites unbeknownst to them; even the most innocent searching can retrieve some offensive material. Even “The Australian Government has responded to community concern about the possible harm to children posed by the internet by establishing legislation (January,2000) which requires the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to take ‘all reasonable steps’ to ensure access to prohibited material is denied.”(Blashki, Quigley, 2003, p. 310) As well as government and communities taking a stance on pornography and it availability to children, software makers are also taking a stance. They are producing software that people can buy or download, like Net Nanny that monitors net activity and blocks undesirable websites. Another easy way for parents to protect their children is to have their computer located in a family area, where there is constant traffic. This is an easy way of monitoring a child’s internet use.

“Periods of extreme concern over sexual threats to children have occurred several times in the 20th-century.”(Bauserman, 2003, ¶ 2) Pornography on the internet and its accessibility to children is the current concern. This is definitely an issue; however the media has definitely used this concern to their advantage and blown it out of proportion. “In 1995, pornography accounted for less than 1% of internet traffic.” (Littlewood, 2003, p. 10) That is a small part of the internet and it has received so much public attention. The sensationalising of an issue by media in this instance has had a huge effect on many different aspects of society. Software companies and certain websites, as well as the media themselves have all profited from the moral panic. Governments have created new laws to protect children from internet pornography. This instance shows how the exaggeration of an issue to create panic can have such a large affect, even on such a small minority.

The internet seems to have become almost a breeding ground for moral panics. There are now panics surrounding both the internet and information contained within the internet. The panics can be both related to technology and issues within society. Most of the panics have only come to the forefront in recent years. Whilst panics about bomb makers meeting on the internet and children being able to access pornography are definitely justified, the panic behind these has definitely been enlarged by the media. The have targeted minority groups and this has created not only a type of mass hysteria, but also a tidy profit. Like anything, as technology and the internet continue to advance, more moral panics will be created to coincide with this growth.



Bauserman, Robert., (2003). Child Pornography Online: Myth, Fact, and Social Control . Journal of Sex Research 219 Volume 40; Issue 2; ISSN: 00224499. Retrieved May 1, 2006 from Factiva database.

Blashki , K, Quigley,M., (2003) Beyond the Boundaries of the Secret Garden: Children and the Internet. Information Technology in Childhood Education Manual (2003), 309-316. Retrieved May 1 from Factiva database.

Littlewood, Anne., (2003). Cyberporn and moral panic: an evaluation of press reactions to pornography on the internet. Library and Information Research 27(86):pp. 8-18. Retrieved April 29, 2006, from E-prints in Library and Information Science database

Wilkins, J., (1997). Protecting our children from Internet smut: moral duty or moral panic?. The Humanist 4 Vol. 57, No. 5, ISSN: 0018-7399. Retrieved May 1, 2006, from the Factiva database.


Jones, E., Jones M. (1999). Mass Media. London: Macmillan


Encyclopaedia of New Media. New Media Panics. (2004). Retrieved April 29, 2006 fromhttp://wiki.media-culture.org.au/index.php/Moral_Panics_and_the_Internet

Grayson, Russ. On Line Opinion. Society's moral panic attacks - all grist for the media mill. (2004). Retrieved April 29, 2006 from http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=2455


Moral Panics. (1996). Retrieved April 29, 2006 from http://www.antipope.org/charlie/rant/censorship.html

Moral Panics on the Net. (n.d.). Retrieved April 29, 2006 from http://www.antipope.org/charlie/journo/cyberpanic.html

Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia. Moral Panic. (2006). Retrieved April29, 2006 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_panic


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