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TRIGGER WARNING – This report contains content that the reader may find offensive. Topics discussing race and suicide are mentioned.

Moral panic is a term that is used when a “widespread fear (more often irrational) that someone or something is a threat to the values, safety, and interests of a community or society at large.” (Crossman 2018). Moral panic is often found to be mainly to be spread by media and then by word of mouth, the severity increasing usually when passed around. In a rising world of technology, moral panic is ever on the rise through many different mediums. Be it news articles online or even videos published for the world to see.

A strong example of how moral panic is presented is YouTube. An online video sharing service that allows users to watch videos posted by others and upload their own. YouTube has become increasingly popular, as well as those who have high subscribed channels. So, when a man with over 60 million subscribers makes what he believes to be a joke, but to others is an expression of anti-Semitism, or another man goes to another country and then insults them and shows a dead body online, should we push off the media for fuelling this moral panic? Does YouTube kindle the fire to moral panic for the modern generation through the influencers and actions by them? Or do we feed into it and believe this ‘threat’ to society?

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Image Credit –

Cohen, the creator of the theory of moral panic in his book named Folk Devils and Moral Panics (1972) outlined the five stages of the process of moral panic. The first being something is perceived and defined as a threat to social norms. Continuing on, these stages recognise the news portrayal of the threat and represents them in a way that can suit the way they want, and eventually the stages end with the decision of the authorities deciding if it is a threat but also the community’s acceptance or rejection of the threat. (Cohen 1972)

With over 70 million subscribers at the time, Felix Kjellberg (other known as PewDiePie) was discovered in mid-2017 to have posted video content with ‘anti-Semitic’ comments & ‘Nazi imagery’. (Berg 2017). These actions from Kjellberg sparked immediate media attention. Because of Felix’s popularity and his status at the time of the most subscribed YouTuber, we saw hundreds of media articles and journalists sharing the controversy which surrounded PewDiePie resulting in many consequences for Kjellberg. News articles assumed that Kjellberg was a white supremacist based on his actions and due to the assumptions, more and more media covered the allegations. (Romano 2017) Eventually parents of younger audiences were worried, people wanted Kjellbergs’ channel shut down and he lost many subscribers. This fear of ‘violent’ content and the possibility of younger audiences viewing and the media’s reports by the public is a key aspect of moral panic being a ‘social reaction’ (Garland 2008).

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Image Credit – Original PewDiePie Video – Since Removed
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Image Credit – Original Logan Paul Video – Since Removed

Early 2018, it went viral that the current YouTube sensation, Logan Paul, had uploaded clips in his latest vlog (Video Blog) travelling Japan which contained a dead body whilst they explored a forest called Aokigahara, unofficially known as ‘suicide forest’. Not only did Paul and his friends film the body and the reaction to seeing the body, but then further exposed the individual by adding a provocative thumbnail of the individual to intrigue viewers. Before being officially removed by YouTube (not including the reposts and images taken of the video) it had been viewed more than 6 million times. (Feldman 2018)

Instantly, Paul received much similar criticism from media, fellow vloggers and other YouTube celebrities. Media demanded his channel was closed and deleted from the site for such an unacceptable act. Media broadcast nationally about Pauls actions and expressed their concerns as Paul’s viewers were averaging a young age rather than older (compared to PewDiePie’s audiences. Parents were outraged at his actions, as well as other actions such as lighting things on fire, destroying houses etc. for the sake of a good video. This fear spiking after media reported on the Aokigahara vlog is the third stage of Cohen’s theory of moral panic. (Cohen 1979) Parents feared that their children were watching someone who had a negative influence on the children, and this would ultimately reflect on their behaviours. Paul lost many subscribers, and whilst it seems that PewDiePie’s panic was ‘dismissed’ in a sense, Paul has been unable to gain back the audience and respect that he once had. (Cross 2018)

Ultimately, Kjellberg and Paul are clear examples on how YouTube is becoming a host for extremely controversial topics and situations. YouTube gives anyone the ability to post their own videos, be it a low-quality phone recorded concert or a high definition film that someone has spend months making. This ability then means that there are people that can upload anything they please with little to no moderation regarding their videos unless they hold a high position. Kjellberg and Paul express an example of how their position can influence the reaction they receive from breaking this social norm and represented as a ‘threat’ to the modern-day society and wide community globally.

Moral panic whilst can escalate a situation and jump to a conclusion regarding an individual, (see PewDiePie’s example) it originally must stem from a cause. Even then, moral panic can be completely accurate and represent a possible issue to the social norm and present what is unacceptable in todays society eg. Logan Paul filming the body of a dead man. The two men’s situation not only clearly express moral panic but follow Cohens Theory and the five stages of moral panic. YouTube is a site that for years to come will most likely have large topics and individuals that will cause many moral panics for society. The ability to post anything is risky and allows a nesting ground for many controversial issues to appear. This proving the original theory that YouTube does indeed fuel the fire of moral panic.



Published by Alex Cooper

UOW Communication and Media Student - Majoring in Digital and Social Media - Minoring in Graphic Design

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