Theses Master's

The Sexual Folk Devil: Making Sense of Moral Panic in the Digital Age

Smith, Noah A.

One of the most pivotal mechanisms of marginalizing LGBTIQ+ people is through moral/sex panics, which can be thought of as processes of rousing social concern over the actions of individuals within a society. Advancements in digital platforms (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) have upended our traditional understanding of moral/sex panics. To determine the institutional legacy of sex panics, I conducted case analyses of historical and contemporary sex panic; to understand the outcomes (i.e., behaviors that result in increased social stigmatization for LGBTIQ people, etc.) of sex panic, I conducted a textual analysis of historical records. By institutional legacy, I mean the laws, policies, and procedures introduced as a result of moral/sex panic.

To examine how digital advancements have altered our conceptual understanding of moral/sex panic, I examined the extant relevant scholarship and conducted structured interviews with human rights experts. This thesis found that archaic homo/transphobic tropes espoused in historically disparate moral/sex panics still resonate with fragments of the public today and are still salient sources of panic production and threaten LGBTIQ+ rights. I concluded that a relationship between moral/sex panics and social media exists.

The available evidence suggests that social media platforms inflate moral/sex panic incidence and severity. I also devise practical solutions advocates, educators, and politicians can take to mitigate the occurrence and severity of sex panics. Precisely, the extant literature illuminated that the most effective strategies to reduce moral/sex panic are ones that engage in harm reduction strategies, specifically promoting sex/gender literacy through varied media interventions and advocating on behalf of the sexual rights of children. (i.e., their right to self-determination, rights to information, and right to security of person).


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Institute for the Study of Human Rights
Thesis Advisors
Currah, Paisley A.
M.A., Columbia University
Published Here
August 10, 2022