The perception of threat can act as a significant advocate in persuasive strategies when employed as part of a fear appeal approach. Thus, much media discourse is often packaged in a way which evokes a sense of trepidation in the audience through both explicit and implicit hints at pending peril. The resulting situation is characterised by the subordination of the audience, with the media as the socio-political commentator and adviser of future direction, placed at the hierarchal pivot of society. The appeal in this for the mediator lies within the power relations it sparks. A subordinate audience is inclined to look to the advising party for future counsel or recommendation. Thus, the incitement of moral panics can prove useful in guiding societal movements in a desired direction, relative to political, commercial and social agendas, as fashioned by media commentators and controllers. Moral panics further possess the function of constructing social binaries; an ‘us and them’ mentality, with the ‘them’ potentially pertaining to all members of the responding audience. This often has the effect of encouraging agreement or participation of the audience with the delivered message, so as to not be characterised as part of the offending ‘them’ component. It is this polarizing nature of moral panics, that renders it such an influential phenomena, and explains the tendencies for media to engage in fear appeal tactics in an effort to incite such panic and manipulate the direction of public sentiment, action and social agendas.
Lumby, C, Funnell, N 2011, ‘Between Heat and Light: The Opportunity in Moral panics’, Crime Media Culture, December 2011, Vol 7, no.3