Start researching the moral panic surrounding young people and “sexting” and five hours later, you’re going to have tab upon tab upon tab of information open on your computer, a million things to say but a blank page in front of you, and the fact that three hours ago you promised to call you mum back “in ten minutes” will have long exited your brain.
Cohen describes a “moral panic” as “A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylised and stereotypical fashion by the mass media” (Cohen, 2002). I find that two things in this definition strike out as the most interesting – something becoming a “threat to societal values” and that this threat is “stylised” by the mass media. Firstly, what are these societal values? Secondly, the mass media is where the majority of people get their information and are told what to be concerned about. So the fact that the media is exaggerating on issues is a bit worrying.
Young people are often the victims of “moral panic”. Nina Funnell sums this up perfectly in the introduction to her educational video “The Teen Sexting Panic” by saying that “through century upon century, societies have located much of their moral panic and hysteria around a victimised view of youth. Whether it’s generational or technological change, the shock of the new has often been seen as deeply threatening to the moral fabric of the vulnerable, naïve individual.” (Funnell, 2015) Youths are viewed as innocence that is being corrupted by external and preventable forces. Seriously, turn on A Current Affair on any given week and you’re almost guaranteed to hear about “THE NEW THREAT THAT IS GOING TO GET YOUR CHILDREN!!!”
“Sexting” is the act of sending sexual messages and pictures to another person through phones or the internet. Apps like “Snapchat” have made it very easy to send sexually photos and videos to people, “privately”. The media has taken “sexting” and just ran wild with it. In some ways, the moral panic surrounding sexting is totally justified. Young people are being sexual (what a shock) and the introduction of technology has opened up a range of new ways to be sexual. Young people who are not of legal age are sending and receiving naked photos of one another, and sometimes these photos are spread and it is, technically, the distribution of child pornography. New laws have come into place to counteract this technicality, for example, in Victoria a new law called the Crimes Amendment (Sexual Offences and Other Matters) Bill 2014 has been passed, and under this law “if you create an intimate image, and send it to someone, it is against the law for them to intentionally send it to a third party, without your consent.” (Law Reform Committee, 2014) This new law protects minors and ensures that they are not prosecuted for the distribution of child pornography if sexting with peers.
This new law aside, there is a massive disconnect between the older generations and the younger generations. In the past, people didn’t need to worry about text messaging, the internet and their private conversations and file sharing being leaked. Watch the media’s representation of sexting and illicit photo sharing and it gives off the impression that the young people engaging in this are innocent and are being corrupted as well as being totally oblivious to the dangers of it all (all of this links back into the moral panic that children are being sexualised too young). But I would argue that young people are sexually experimental by nature (puberty, anyone?) and just like the generations before, are exploring this sexuality. There is just new technology so there is a new way of expressing, exploring and learning about it. I agree that the moral panic surrounding sexting isn’t completely misguided and there does need to be education surrounding the potential dangers, I equally agree that the media has as the media does, and it has sensationalised it and exaggerated the panic. Times are a’changin’.
– Kassi Klower
Cohen, S., 2002. Folk Devils and Moral Panics. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge.
Funnell, N., 2015. Wheeler Centre. [Online]
Available at: http://apo.org.au/node/27267
[Accessed 16 April 2015].
Hasinhof, A, A., June 2013. Sexting as media production: Rethinking social media and sexuality. New Media & Society , Volume 15, pp. 449-465.
Law Reform Committee (2013) Inquiry into Sexting, Victorian Parliament, Parliamentary Paper No. 230
Marker, B. S., 2011. Sexting as Moral Panic: An Exploratory Study into the Media’s Construction of Sexting. Paper 12 ed. Online Theses and Dissertations: s.n.