Interesting read. It’s a bit long, but worth it. Link to full article below.
One of the most fascinating phenomena in culture is moral panics. Whether it’s witches in post-Reformation Europe or razor blades in apples (remember that one?), a sudden panic spreads like a meme and convulses society. Those who keep level-headed are left dismissed and befuddled.
Moral panics aren’t completely random, of course. Very often they reflect a deeper anxiety, at least among a certain group of people.
All of which brings me to the latest moral panic, at least among the American media elite: “fake news.”
Fake news is a cancer that is destroying democracy, we’re told. Fake news enabled Donald Trump to steal the election. Fake news is being orchestrated by Steve Bannon, or else money-grubbing hucksters, or else Vladimir Putin.
Now, many moral panics have a grain of truth in them. For example, when Europe erupted with a moral panic over witchcraft — almost-exclusively female faith-healers who appealed among other things to supernatural forces — had been a cultural tradition in many regions since well before the advent of Christianity. Fake news and viral conspiracy theories have been with us since the dawn of time, and fake email chains went viral long before Mark Zuckerberg got his first dial-up line, let alone started Facebook.
But this only poses the question: Why now? If “witches” had been around forever in Europe, why did Europe erupt in a moral panic during and after the Reformation? If fake news has been around forever, why are journalists suddenly fretting about it destroying democracy?