Policing the Web: Cyberporn, moral panics, and the social construction of social problems
The present research identifies June, 1995 to July, 1996 as the period marking the Cyberporn Panic in the United States and analyzes the cultural conditions and the claims-making in mainstream newspapers about Cyberporn and the Communications Decency Act using traditional moral panic theories, as well as the theories of moral panic developed by Hall et al. in Policing the Crisis (1978). This communication-centric investigation of the Cyberporn Panic includes results of a discourse analysis of the mainstream news reports, and focus group interviews with parents who are themselves Internet users, and who have children under 18 years old also on the Internet. Results of the discourse analysis show that, while initial news coverage of Cyberporn reported claims about the prevalence of Cyberporn, these discourses rapidly gave way to the claims about censorship made by those who wished to shift the debate from the symbolic moral universe of pornography and the threat to children to one that focused on censorship and the threat to free speech. The research argues that this shift in discourse is the result, in part, of the commercial interests of newspapers in the U.S. and the emerging business needs of news organizations that saw the Internet as a potential new business opportunity. The refocusing of discourses is discussed as part of an overall hegemonic process that reproduces contemporary cultural conditions with regard to communication technologies and capitalist ideologies. At the same time, focus group interviews indicate that parents were not aware of the commercial nature of the Internet and believe the government is the only potential source of censorship. In the end, the Cyberporn Panic is discussed, in many ways, as the moral panic that wasn't.