Richard Ling: Cyber McCarthyism: Witch Hunts in the Living Room

Richard Ling Telenor Research and Development Telenor 2007 Kjeller, Norway © 1996 Electronic Journal of Sociology

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Many people are uneasy with the rapid spread of new forms of electronic communication and media such as the internet, video on demand, electronic agents, teletorg numbers (premium rate services), satellite TV, pay TV channels accessible through cable TV, etc. Research has shown that parents fear for their children’s access to unsavory information. These developments have led to what one might call a border crisis or a fear that the social norms defined by traditional values are being rapidly changed. This paper examines the potential for electronic communication to spark mass hate such as that seen in colonial Salem and during the McCarthy period. As developed here, mass hate is a form of social hysteria characterized by a socially stressful situation, individuals or institutions available for vilification, a crystallizing event and the neutralization of societies normal control mechanisms. After outlining the sequence of elements which are necessary for the development of mass hate, I examine two historical examples. Difficulties in identifying villains and the ability to handle these situations administratively, and not the least, social support for the development of electronic communication may mitigate the potential for the development of mass hate.

In early 1692 a minister Lawsen visited his colleague Reverend Samuel Parris to investigate rumours of witchcraft in Salem Village, Massachusetts. Based on that visit he wrote the following description:

I went to give Mr. Parris a visit. When I was there, his kinswoman, Abigail Williams, (about 12 years of age,) [sic] had a grievous fit; she was at first hurried with violence to and fro in the room, (though Mrs. Intersoll endeavoured to hold her,) [sic] sometimes making as if she would fly, stretching her arms up as high as she could, and crying “whish, whish, whish!” several times…. After that, she run to the fire, and began to throw fire brands about the house; and run against the back, as if she would run up the chimney, and as they said, she had attempted to go into the fire in other fits (Lawsen quoted in Erikson, 1966: 142. Emphasis added).

The “cause” of this behaviour was alleged to be a Black Barbadian cook named Tituba. She was said to have familiarity with various types of magic and voodoo.

Almost three hundred years later a student at a fundamentalist Christian high school, Bethany Baptist Academy, described the attitude of the school towards rock music as follows: “rock music gets you in a rowdy spirit and then you’ll go out and do things you shouldn’t do…rock music tears the Lord down” (Peshkin, 1988: 251). Another student, the senior class president said:

Personally, I think rock and roll is repulsive. I wouldn’t want to listen to it. I’ve heard it and I don’t like it. I’ve heard stories about what it makes you do. If you listen to rock music, then you get rowdy and go out and vandalize and stuff. And rock music goes along with the drug parties; it gets you in the mood (Peshkin, 1988: 200. Emphasis added).

In both cases there is the assertion that external forces are at work. It is the music which initiates the rowdiness and “makes you do” vandalism and attend drug parties and perhaps even engage in satanistic ceremonies (O’Sullivan, 1991). In a parallel construction one may note that Abigail Williams “was hurried with violence to and fro in the room.”

In both cases syntax suggests that the victim is overtaken by forces outside their control and in both cases the effect is an affront to God worthy of expulsion from the community. [1]

As with the cases cited above, it is not hard to tap into an uneasiness about the rapid spread of new forms of electronic communication and media, i.e. the Internet, video on demand, electronic agents, premium rate services, satellite TV, pay TV channels accessible through cable TV, etc. This is true when it comes to parents’ fears for their children and particularly true when children are more computer literate than their parents. While large portions of the society understand and are comfortable with various types of electronic media, many actively avoid them and many fear their effects. Studies have reported that there is fear that media can control the minds of children (Peshkin, 1988: 258). Norwegian parents expressed fears that media leads to over stimulation and uneasiness in children’s bodies. They feared easy access to unsavoury material and the development of what one respondent called “the American situation.” [2]

This paper examines the potential for electronic communication to spark mass hate, such as that seen in colonial Salem. The speed with which electronic media has developed has left many uneasy. This development has also led to what one might call a border crisis or a fear that the social norms defined by traditional values are being rapidly changed.

New media has given us access to things which were difficult in a print based world (Meyorwitz, 1986; McLuhan, 1994). Many parents are left with the sense that they are unable to control the types of information to which their children have access. Like the fears concerning the voodoo and witchcraft of Tituba, many feel that media have the ability to infiltrate their homes with images and messages which are both malicious and dangerous. Another aspect which lends a particular power to the fear of electronic media is that both the content and the medium can be seen as undermining the authority of the parents. It is not bad enough that there is open and frank information about sexuality, drugs and violence. In addition, children can find it on their own and bring it into the home using technology of which parents have only a vague understanding.

In this paper I speculate as to the potential for electronic communication to spark an episode of mass hate. As developed here, mass hate is a form of social hysteria characterized by a socially stressful situation, individuals or institutions available for vilification, a crystallizing event and the neutralization of societies normal control mechanisms. After outlining the sequence of elements which are necessary for the development of mass hate, I examine two historical examples and then speculate as to the potential for the development of a cyber based mass hate. Is it possible that the confluence of rapidly developing electronic communication with the fear of the media’s effect can result in a form of mass hysteria or cyber McCarthyism? The fact that it is difficult to identify a villain and the fact that such conflicts have been successfully handled by existing institutions may indicate that the danger is not critical.

The elements which go into the development of mass hate include the following: 1) strains on the community through the recognition of a moral boundary crisis and identification of villains, 2) crystallizing of patterned labelling through a degradation ceremony, 3) appropriation of the social apparatus and suppression of critique mechanisms, 4) restoration of a normal situation. This sequence can be found in a variety of situations ranging from the search for witches in colonial Massachusetts to the ganging up on Chicanos in wartime California to the persecution of the Hollywood 10 in the McCarthy era. The elements which link these events are the moral indignation of the community made manifest through patterned labelling (Doyle, 1988). The primary condition for the emergence of mass hatred is a socially stressful situation. This is particularly true if there is the perception of a threat to the moral boundaries of the community (Erikson, 1966: 68; Wright, 1965: 288). Social stresses may arise from wars, threats to governance, and perceived shifts in authority or control. In addition technical developments can lead to a boundary crises. This is illuminated by Eisenstein’s study of the social effects of printing (1991). On the one hand the Catholic church was empowered by the technology. They could, for example quickly spread exact messages to the far flung corners of the Catholic world in Latin so that only those who could read Latin were able to decode the messages. On the other hand there was the development of Luther and the Protestant movement that was largely based on the printing press.

The second element which facilitates the development of boundary crises is the existence of concrete groups available for vilification. Klapp (1971) discusses the need, in the case of social unrest, to identify a specific type of person or group who will fit the specific need for a scapegoat (see also Lofland 1981: 434). There may be a simple visual element, i.e. persons of different skin colour or dress. However, membership in organizations or participation in certain types of activities can also be used as a basis for vilification. Note that not just any villain will do. This person or group, if they are to fulfil their role in the social drama must be seen as a powerful adversary who, if unchecked, will pose a threat to society.

A poor, witless, bedraggled devil in a struggle against a powerful majestic god makes the god ridiculous. A strong, cunning, and powerful devil enhances the power of God. Like any villain, he must be almost equal to the hero if the hero is to gain honour in vanquishing him (Duncan, 1970: 342).

Recognition of a boundary crisis and the availability of a vilifiable group are necessary for the development of mass hysteria. To develop into mass hate, however, there must be a socially recognized ritual which makes the crisis tangible and which clarifies the social roles of the various actors. In this connection I use the term patterned labelling, which is an adaptation of the labelling theory of deviance developed by Lemert (1951; 1967) and Becker (1963; see also Chambliss, 1973 and Garfinkle, 1956). While many approaches to the study of deviance search for the genesis of deviance in psychological, systemic or even physiological irregularities, labelling theory examines the symbolic interaction between society and the individual. Deviance is a combination of the individuals’ behaviour and societies’ reaction to that behaviour. A social effect of deviance is that it helps society to define its own sense of propriety.

Deviancy is not a simple kind of leakage which occurs when the machinery of society is in poor working order, but may be, in controlled quantities, an important condition for preserving the stability of social life. Deviant forms of behaviour, by marking the outer edges of group life, give the inner structure its special character and thus supply the framework within which the people of the group develop an orderly sense of their own cultural identity (Erikson, 1966: 13).

The social function of labelling people as deviant is identification of the boundary between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. There are three phases in the labelling process. These are primary deviance, a degradation ceremony and secondary deviance. Primary deviance is that type of deviance carried on by many members of society. The individual may engage in various acts which, if known in the proper social context, would be considered deviant. However, since they are not made public there is no social reaction. Examples include the local store keeper who takes questionable tax deductions, the teenager who engages in experimental homosexual activity, the spraying of graffiti, and the use of illicit drugs.

Upon public recognition of primary deviance in the community the person may be subjected to what Garfinkle (1956) calls a degradation ceremony. The ceremony is a public act carried out by significant members of the community (e.g. judges, police, teachers, members of the military, priests). The accused is publicly punished and forced to recognize the moral superiority of the accusers. In addition to its disciplinary function, the ceremony labels the accused of being a “tax cheater” “nut,” “whore,” “fag,” or “addict” in the popular imagination, or perhaps more importantly in their estimation of the popular imagination. It is important to underscore that labelling does not necessarily consider the actual guilt or innocence of the individual. Rather it refers to their status in the society.

The community’s decision to bring deviant sanctions against one of its members is not a simple act of censure. It is an intricate rite of transition, at once moving the individual out of his (sic) ordinary place in society and transferring him into a special deviant position. The ceremonies which mark this change of status, generally, have a number of related phases. They supply a formal stage on which the deviant and his community can confront one another (as in the criminal trial); they make an announcement about the nature of his deviancy (a verdict or diagnosis, for example); and they place him in a particular role which is thought to neutralize the harmful effects of his misconduct (like the role of a prisoner or patient). These commitment ceremonies tend to be occasions of wide public interest and ordinarily take place in a highly dramatic setting. Perhaps the most obvious example of a commitment ceremony is the criminal trial, with its elaborate formality and exaggerated ritual, but more modest equivalents can be found wherever procedures are set up to judge whether or not someone is legitimately deviant [3] (Erikson, 1966: 16).

The label becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. The accused can no longer claim the status of “normal” individual. Rather, they must accept the status of a deviant. With access to normal society restricted, the accused must seek companionship among those who are not so harsh in their judgment. The teen who has experimented with drugs will find acceptance among those who also have accepted the status of drug users and the nascent graffiti artists will adopt the morals of like fellows. Upon acceptance of this status, the individual will be open to the behaviour of the defining group which is deviant vis-À-vis the larger society. Labelling theory calls this portion of the cycle secondary deviance. In the case of mass hate, the process of labelling is generalized to an entire group. Against the backdrop of widely recognized social stress and with a group available for scapegoating, the missing element is a ritual that will fix the social polarization in the situation (Oberschall, 1973).

As with individual labelling, the process of patterned labelling includes primary behaviour which, when seen against the backdrop of the broader social strain, leads to degradation ceremonies. The “primary deviance” in the case of patterned labelling may be activities which are accepted in less stressful times as relatively innocent, i.e. minor excesses of youth, the recitation of fairy tales from exotic cultures, critical social commentary or various types of political activity. However, if the conditions of strain are correctly aligned a simple action may be the carthesis for a crisis (Hall et al., 1979: 221). This is what I refer to as the crystallizing degradation ceremony. In this process, the specific behaviour of the “deviant” becomes abstracted and thus, easily applied to other questionable members of the community.

Appropriation of the social apparatus, suppression of critique mechanisms and restoration of the “normal” situation

If patterned labelling exceeds the ability of the community’s discipline apparatus, i.e. police, courts, it is likely that these institutions will be appropriated and social critique limited. Those who question the process will be judged as having questionable loyalty to the community and will be considered a threat to the moral boundaries of the society. This is, in effect, a reign of ideology where only the “true believers” are safe from persecution (and sometimes not even that!) The urge is to purge the community of the evil spectre. There is a “us” against “them” mentality which dominates and it becomes the duty of all to root out the villain.

In this process the members of the community become experts at identification of the morally suspect. Those displaying certain types of jewellery, clothing, dialects, skin colour, those who are members in certain organizations or movements, or those expressing certain ideas are vulnerable to labelling. The definition of deviance may develop and change as the crisis continues and the “true believers” become more adept at recognizing the nuances of deviance.

The process of vilification proceeds until either a plausible gap in the proceedings is generally recognized and/or until the process threatens significantly powerful members of the community who have the resources to alter the progression of guilt by vilification.

To flesh out the social background for mass hysteria, it is useful to examine two concrete examples. These are the witch hunt in colonial Salem, Massachusetts and the case of the Hollywood 10. In both cases, the events took place against a backdrop of a boundary crisis. Villains were identified and degraded in a ceremony which crystallizes the issues troubling the community. [4] The Massachusetts colony was established with the intention of becoming a perfect religious society. The colony was to be the new Kingdom of God, the “city on the hill,” a “light in darkness” (Drinnon, 1990; 0Bi: Winthrop, 1989; 22). According to Erikson, Puritanism was more than simply a religion for the early members of the Colony. It was “an emotional tone as well as a body of theory, an ideological stance as well as a political program” (1966, 44; see also Hall 1989, 21; Garraty and Gay, 1984: 665-668; Nesbit, 1973: 211, 215-216; Stone, 1977: 175).

As one might guess, it is not easy to maintain religious fervour. Such movements are faced with the need to institutionalize charisma in an attempt to maintain its authority (Weber 1978: 246-254; Schweitzer, 1984). In the real world people assert their independence and question authority. Unforeseen issues arise and clay feet become obvious where before there was only a head of gold. Between the 1660’s and the 1690’s the colony suffered a series of reversals that led to the end of the most active expression of the faith of the community. [5] From the perspective of the community members it must have seemed as though all that which they had worked for was under direct attack from the devil. The moral landscape, in the words of Cotton Mather had become “fill’d with Fiery flying serpents…. All our way to Heaven, lies by the Dens of Lions, and the Mounts of Leopards; there are incredible Droves of Devils in our way” (Mather cited in Erikson, 1966: 141). By the 1690’s a boundary crisis had developed. The Puritans must have been faced with the recognition that their Kingdom of God was in the process of becoming profane. This was most likely a difficult realization, prompting rearguard actions such as the infamous Salem witch episode of 1692.

The villain was first seen to be the Black slave Tituba around whom several girls from Salem Village, Massachusetts began to collect. Tituba, the cook in the home of the Reverend Parris, was born and raised in the Barbados and was undoubtedly familiar with the rich legends and voodoo of the Caribbean which contrasted so sharply with the spartan pietism of the Puritans (Erikson, 1966: 141-145, Encyclopedia Americana, 1989: 147; Lawson, 1914; Starkey, 1949; Drinnon, 1990).

As time progressed the bond between the girls intensified and they shared strictly guarded secrets. Soon, the girls began to display extraordinary fits where they would scream, convulse and grovel on the ground. The town’s doctor was called but was unable to effect a cure. His conclusion was that the fits were the result of metaphysical causes, and thus outside the realm of his competence. The local clergy were called to deal with the situation. They determined that the girls had been bewitched. [6] The only solution was for the girls to identify the witches who were harassing them. The girls, with coaching from the local elders, identified three witches. They included Tituba, Sarah Good, a poor local woman who was known for begging, uttering oaths against those who crossed her, smoking a pipe and not taking care of her children, and Sarah Osburne who had been the brunt of a scandal wherein a man had moved into her house several months before becoming her husband.

The crystallizing degradation ceremony of these three women came at the trial where one can see the public labelling of vilified individuals, i.e. non-traditional women, against the backdrop of a stressful social setting. The “bewitched” girls rolled around on the floor, pointed at invisible spirits who flew around the court room, and generally disturbed the proceedings. Sarah Good and Sarah Osburne were more or less speechless during the proceeding. By contrast, Tituba gave a full and colourful recitation on the creatures who inhabit the spiritual plane. She told the judges of the dark rituals which bind these Satanistic spirits and in general gave the court and the public more than they bargained for. In addition to giving them an overview of her spiritual constitution, Tituba implicated Sarah Good, Sarah Osburn and many other local residents.

Tituba’s confession galvanized the community. The Salem witch hysteria was in full swing. The “bewitched” girls became recognized as divining rods who were able to point to other witches, both male and female. By this point the institutions of social control had been overwhelmed.

As the girls began to implicate persons higher and higher on the social ladder, i.e., the wife of the Governor, the president of Harvard College and Cotton Mather’s mother, Captain John Alden and Nathaniel Carey, questions as to the validity of their activity began to arise (Erikson, 1966: 149-50). This prompted a shift in the legal definition of witchcraft. In turn, the framework upon which the panic had been built began to crumble. Soon after these doubts arose the hysteria lost its power and the remaining suspects were released from jail. In the end, 19 “witches” died either from hanging, being crushed with stones or from disease in prison.

A second example of mass hate, an example that deals with mass hate in the context of media, is that of the Hollywood 10 and the “threat” posed by communism in the decade immediately following World War II. Those who were vilified had access to a mass media. It was felt that they used this access to spread a potentially dangerous message and subvert the morality of the community. Those who were labelled as deviants were not selected on the basis of their appearance or dress. Rather, they were identified by an official investigation based on the recommendation of informants.

Through the early 40’s there had been a series of measures taken in order to protect the US against the perceived threat of Communism. President Roosevelt had instituted a system of loyalty checks to insure that the government would not be infiltrated. By the late 40’s this had become an issue of popular concern, that is a boundary crisis. There was social stress based on the fall of China to Mao and the fear that the Soviets were able to develop atomic weapons.

Most citizens of the United States went into the Second World War very conscious of the line separating “democracy” from “fascism,” since this distinction represented one of the critical baselines of the American way; but these same citizens emerged from the war into a world where the line separating “democracy” from “communism” had assumed a sudden prominence. This change of focus did not indicate the appearance of “new” boundaries, of course, but a shift of national attention from one established boundary sector to another, and the various investigations which followed during the McCarthy era can be understood to some extent as an attempt on the part of the larger community to become better informed about the nature and location of that line (Erikson, 1966: 70).

As with the Puritans and witchcraft, communism was perceived to be a critical boundary issue. The response to this threat was to vilify sectors of the community who gave the impression of sympathy with this ideology (Current, Williams and Freidel, 1971: 731). [7] In 1947 the US Congress’ House Committee on Un-American Activities held a series of hearings focused on eliminating the “communist menace” from the film industry; (Dick, 1989; Jensen, 1971-72). The committee, with the help of several sources in the industry, including Walt Disney and Ronald Reagan, identified 10 writers and actors who were thought to have connections to communist organizations.

The individuals who became the “Hollywood 10” refused to cooperate with the investigation at a nationally covered hearing. They invoked their right to avoid self-incrimination and thus, in the popular imagination, they were seen as trying to hide misdeeds. This was the crystallizing degradation ceremony. The 10 lost their jobs and sparked the hunt for more communists in the film industry. In the end more than 200 individuals were placed on a blacklist thus losing their jobs. Several hundred were also placed on a gray list for their political activities and also lost their jobs (Dick, 1989).

Like the Salem witch hunt, the McCarthy period waned as accusations of communist sympathy began to effect persons and organizations with high status and legitimacy. It is generally recognized that the end came when Senator McCarthy held hearings focused on finding communist sympathizers in the Army. During these hearings he made a series of reckless accusations. At the same time, it was discovered that McCarthy and his counsel Ray Cohen had sought favours from the military. This revelation had the effect of unmasking him (McLellen, 1989: 557). The fact that the Army was considered to be nearly holy in the period immediately after World War II meant that McCarthy was unable to pursue his attack (Mills, 1976). He was subsequently censured by the Senate, the strongest discipline short of excluding a member.

In both cases the elements leading to mass hate were in place. Boundary crises were evident and persons became available for vilification. A crystallizing degradation ceremony took place during which the general anxieties were given a concrete face. In both cases there developed a mass hysteria that outstripped, and in turn cooped the authorities. Finally, the fervour came under control. In both of these cases this occurred when the mass hate became a serious threat to the established power structure, members of the government in the case of colonial Salem and the Army in the case of McCarthyism.

There are, however, differences between these two cases. First the social context is quite different for the two. Colonial Massachusetts was a tightly controlled religiously dominated society. It was not the polycultural society in which the McCarthy episode took place. In this respect it was perhaps easier for the threat to gain a foothold in the society. In addition, this may have facilitated more the use of extreme measures to eliminate the threat. A second difference is that the villains were, perhaps, more obvious in the Salem episode. Because of the local nature of the community it may have been easier for members of the society to recognize suspicious individuals. A third difference is seen in the role of mass media. An integral aspect of the crystallizing degradation ceremony in the McCarthy episode was the televised broadcasting of the hearings. This made the ten individuals who refused to comply easily identifiable. It, in effect, collapsed the vilification and the degradation ceremony into a single act. I will now turn to a discussion of the potential for an episode of mass hate based on the development of electronic communication.

Many of the elements associated with the cases presented above can be found in the social reaction to the development of electronic communication. The new electronic situation means that all members of society can potentially become the authors or the consumers of information that others feel is immoral. The fact that it can come or be sent via the Internet, and can contain text, pictures, sound and video material means that comprehensive communication is possible. Not only can one be the recipient of this material but one can also be its author with a potential world wide audience.

None the less, the development of cyber based episodes of mass hate is dependent on the degree to which these messages become the basis of a boundary crisis. In this section I will consider the degree to which electronic media represent a boundary crisis and speculate as to the potential for the development of mass hatred based on the development of new media.

New communication technology has led to a series of major changes in our lives. Many commentators suggest that we have entered a new epoch. There is the idea that we live in an information based society. If this line of reasoning is to be believed this will lead to fundamental changes in our relations to work, to education, to the church and to the family. Many have suggested that this development is the most basic change to the organization of society since the industrial revolution.

The information society, according to its proponents, brings about change at the most fundamental level of society. It initiates a new mode of production. It changes the very source of wealth-creation and the governing factors in production. Labour and capital, the central factors of the industrial society, are replaced by information and knowledge as central variables (Kumar, 1995: 12).

Such changes are not to be taken lightly. Just as the industrial revolution was the spark that led to modernization, it also had fundamental effects on the lives of individuals and was the point of departure for many of the social conflicts of the 19th and 20th century. If the information revolution is the fundamental transition described by many, then one can also expect the same intensity of conflicts.

To bring this discussion down from the abstract, the development of information technology raises the issue of socialization. In material from a series of focus group interviews in Norway examining new media many respondents voiced as a common criticism of the technology its ability to effect children. [8] Many parents feel a lack of control when confronted with the explosion of possibilities made available through electronic media. For example, a mother talked about “that gigantic attack that our children are experiencing.” She felt that the access to various media “means that they are much more vulnerable.”

This “attack” is the result of electronic media’s ability to penetrate one’s home with messages and information that conflicts with one’s sense of morality. In a print based world it is easier to exclude inappropriate information from certain social situations. Physical and moral boundaries are easier to maintain (Meyrowitz, 1986). By comparison, it is more difficult to keep one’s children from coming into contact with recipes for LSD, films showing pediophilia, necrophilia or Christ making love to Mary Magdalene, satanistic messages “backmasked” into hard metal music, images of art consisting of jars filled with crucifixes and urine and vulgar “flame wars” with electronic media. According to a study by Rimm, there are over 900,000 “pornographic” pages available on the Internet. These range from simple nudity to various forms of people having sex to other more explicit and deviant forms of interaction. According to Rimm these pictures have been accessed over 8 million times (Rimm, 1995; Fox, 1994). Regardless of the rigor of such analysis this type of assertion is swallowed whole by those who are worried about the development of these technologies.

While many parents see this type of openness as a threat, the access to information has also been hailed as a revolution by the so called cyber punk ideology. This approach suggests the new openness will tear down the facades that have been used to cover our “true” feelings. The journalist R.U. Sirius (1994) writes that:

Media space-and now virtual space-must be thought of and used as a safe zone, where all of the demons and ghouls of the imagination can act out…. Out in the real (meat) world, it can be generalized that people behave in a superficially civil manner towards one and another, but brutalize one and other over the “bottom line,” when possession or survival is at stake. In a fully realized media or cyber culture-at the point where primary value is located in virtual space-this may be reversed. People may play the most primitive of games inside the fully realized media landscape while providing for common decency on the social and economic level.

The transition from a print to an electronic world is the cause of concern (Cohen, 1980; Knutsson, 1989: 5-6; O’Sullivan, 1991; von Feilitzen, 1993: 11-13). This is particularly true for parents who are not computer literate. In a print based world, it is easier to hold one’s home free of these influences. [9] Focus group participants in Norway felt that the new media was dangerous vis-À-vis children. These media are particularly troubling since one is not able to keep their children from seeing thing which they feel are inappropriate. One parent said:

It is one thing to be an adult and have the ability to differentiate between that which is important and that which is not important. But children, small children, can not differentiate.

Similar fears were expressed by other parents. Violent games can “hook” children, keep them from doing their lessons, result in headaches and make them drowsy the next day in school. TV is “not exactly textbook education.” There is a fear that too many “strange things” come in through a cable subscription and that violent films lead to a violent society.

While there was general agreement among the respondents as to the reality of the “attack” to which children were subjected, there was little agreement as to its symptoms nor its effects. A woman in her 50’s felt that because of media “[Children] are over stimulated. It develops a type of restlessness. When it is quiet they are restless and there is an uneasiness in their bodies.” A second woman said:

I have a son… who does not like it when it is quiet. He has either the radio, or music or the TV on. I like it sometimes when it is quiet. This is something with children. They like to have that sound all the time and I think that it is very negative….

Another symptom of over exposure to TV, according to the respondents, is that children become passive. This comment comes from a mother in her 40’s who said that TV:

…is like dope, the dope they get from TV. The influence that is a passive influence. They have not developed the ability to understand it. They take everything in the same way and there is no activity. There is no mental development.

While many of the respondents felt that it was wrong that “these types of services come into the individual homes” there was disagreement on how to deal with the situation. On the one hand many respondents felt that the authorities should take responsibility. Many felt that the sender should control the content. When referring to a telephone based video on demand system respondents noted that “Televerket (now Telenor) needs to be a little selective in what they choose. We do not want the American situation in Norway. Norway is a little country” and Telenor should “have control over the system.”

A possible solution to the access problem can be provided by the use of PIN codes. Various members of the family would have differential access to information in certain types of media. While it is possible to use PIN codes, the respondents felt that this was less than an ideal situation. On the one hand PIN codes are not completely secure.

In spite of the PIN codes, people might be able to come in there in some way or other. You can risk that children see the “Chain saw massacre” or what ever. That should not be possible.

Another perspective was provided by an elderly man who felt that it was wrong to rely on technology to mediate between family members. The family should be the reserve of trust and mutual respect in society. To impose systems of PIN codes and differential access contrasted with his image of how a household should function. He said: “With a family, I don’t know…. [It should be that] with children that you do not need a secret code. It is coming of course.” Given the potential for a boundary crises associated with modern technology, one might assume that the “primary deviance” is in the process of becoming more public. Behaviours which were once seen with tolerance in society are being seen with different eyes. The lack of control over information which comes into one’s home has sparked several controversies in this respect. In this section I will look at how society has reacted, examine the potential for patterned labelling and speculate as to the nature of a potential crystallizing degradation ceremony. The episode in Salem indicates that the potential for patterned labelling vis-À-vis electronic communication is strongest in communities with a well defined hierarchy and strongly defined moral values. Thus one can suggest that contemporary fundamentalist and authoritarian groups will be among the first to both define “cyber” activities as more than primary deviance and also to proceed in the vilification of persons and/or groups (Johnson, 1995; Eidsvåg, 1995). [10] Many forms of mass media are already seen as being morally suspect. For example, in his study of a fundamentalist Christian high school Peshkin found that seeing a film, any film, is an offense that can also lead to the student’s expulsion (Peshkin, 1988). Viewing inappropriate TV programs or listening to rock music are also taboo.

In the context of this paper, the student discipline process at such a school is an example of labelling. When this process takes place against a charged social context and if a group is available for vilification there is the potential for mass hate.

There have been several events, in the recent past, which could be crystallizing degradation ceremonies for mass. Examples include what was conceived of as the media motivated kidnapping and murder of two year old James Bulger in England and a somewhat similar episode involving a five year old girl in Trondheim, Norway. The press has also reported suicides and killings which, given the correct social context, i.e. social stress and a recognizable villain, could become crystallizing degradation ceremonies (Skreting, 1994). [11]

In both the cases cited above the persons who carried out the killings were youths. In the former they were 10 and 11 year old boys and in the latter case they were both five year olds. Both cases are examples of moral and ethical dilemmas in that they cry out to the humanity of the observer. To understand the tragedy of an innocent child’s death is impossible. One wants to know why this happened. Even though the observer never met the dead children, they feel an empathy with them and their parents. It is that visceral feeling that can easily be cooped and reformed into vilification if the appropriate deviant is symbolically available (Hall et al 1979: 220).

With the case in England, and to a lesser degree that in Norway, direct connections were made between the motives for the killings and specific programs or films (Skretting, 1994). In England there was a connection made to the film Child’s Play 3. Further analysis of the situation in England showed that the connections were not as dramatic as originally reported. None the less, in the popular imagination, the connections are clear. This is shown in the comments of a male participant in a focus group held in Norway.

[Film and TV] leads to a more violent society. There is no doubt about that. You can see it in terms of that child in England. That was a copy of a film. It has been proven that violence leads to violence. It is the same with other extreme films. (emphasis added)

In spite of the fact that researchers have found only indirect connections between violence and media, the public understanding of the connection is clear and solid. There is no nuance. Violence leads to violence. This perspective is also reflected by the Norwegian Minister of Culture who stated that “There is no known connection between increasing violence in visual material and violence in society. None the less, we assume that it is to be found” (Ellingsen, 1995).

These instances have the potential of becoming crystallizing ceremonies. [12] However, these are not as incendiary as they might be since no group is directly available for vilification. Because of this it was not possible to carry out a crystallizing degradation ceremony. The transgressions are seen as an unfortunate aspect of new technology and ot as a fundamental threat to society. In order to develop into mass hate there is the need for a public drama wherein a clearly defined group is judged in the popular imagination and convicted of a transgression.

The children who carried out the killings were minors who are judged to be easily affected by the films and TV to which they are subjected. In the popular imagination, the true “offenders” are the persons who provided the children with the material. These persons are not easily available, none the less activities in that direction were carried out. For example Skretting (1994: 144) notes that:

Critical attention was directed toward the shelves of the video rental stores. The newspapers asked: Is it also possible to find the dangerous film Child’s Play 3 in our [Norwegian] cities or villages? The film was found in the video stores in Romsdalen, Nes, Alta in addition to several other places.

As in the McCarthy period, if electronic media is seen to pose a significant social threat, episodes like those in England and Trondheim will lead to vilification and retribution directed at video stores, bulletin board operators, film producers and other similar groups. While there is the potential for the development of cyber-based episodes of mass hate, there are also mitigating elements. Generally these can be seen in the debate surrounding the development of an information society. Following authors such as Bell (1973), McLuhan (1994) and Meyrowitz (1994) we are in the process of going over from an industrial society to what they call a post-industrial, or an information society. At the same time other authors suggest that the development of advanced information systems is simply the further extension of capital based rationalization into the domestic sphere (Kumar, 1995; Rasmussen, 1995: 55). If this latter perspective is adopted it means that there is a broad agreement among social elites as to the necessity of the innovation and while it has some undesirable effects, these are not to be taken seriously since the ultimate goal is the extension of the rationalized consumption.

The reshaping of consumption, according to the principles of what has been called “social Taylorism” (Webster and Robins, 1989), also follows the familiar logic of capitalism. That is, it is concerned with bringing ever more areas of social and cultural life within the purview of capitalist activity and market rationality (Kumar, 1995: 155).

If one follows this line of thought, the conceptions of the cyber-based societies discussed by Nasbitt (1984), Toffler (1981), and most recently Negroponte (1995) are off base. The ideas of a new Aquarius are simply ideological lubrication for an ever more encompassing control over the production and consumption cycle. In terms of the discussion here this means that the issue of mass hate will be held in check until and if the technology begins to threaten the power structure of society. It is only then that one might expect a different structural response.

An interesting comparison can be made to the introduction of the automobile. The major effect has been a more efficient commerce based on the cheap transportation of goods and services over a publicly subsidized network of roads. There have been certain unfortunate side effects, i.e. drunken driving, air pollution, changes in courting behaviour, easier distribution of drugs, changes in the form and extent of prostitution etc. In addition the car has changed both the structure of working and the geography of urban development. Nonetheless, the development of the automobile and highway system has not provided the motivation for mass hate. That is, the car has not provided an ideological threat to the existing power structure. Rather, it has facilitated and extended it.

It is perhaps too early to tell if electronic communication technology will prove to be a fundamental threat to the existing power structure or simply be an extension of capitalist production. If the former proves to be dominant one can expect episodes of social turbulence and mass hate as described in this paper.

This paper has presented a model for the development of mass hate. The process is described as including social strains due to a moral boundary crisis, vilification, patterned labelling, crystallization of the crisis through a dramatic act, appropriation of the appropriate social apparatus and suppression of critique, and finally restoration of a normal situation.

When one considers the development of electronic media in society, many of these first elements are in place. There are many examples of social stress due to the perceived threat of new media. In addition, the potential for patterned labelling and for crystallizing degradation ceremonies exist, particularly in communities which have well defined moral and ethical boundaries.

As was seen in the persecution of the Hollywood 10, the fear of a particular type of content along with a fear of open access to a medium may compound the public fear. Thus, patterned labelling will begin when defence of a moral boundary leads to vilification for sending “offensive” electronic messages.

The fact is that much media technology is seen as a positive development. In addition, the entrenched power structure, along with the difficulties in identifying villains, i.e. cyber punks and the ability to handle these situations administratively, may mitigate the potential for the development of mass hate.

[1] In this paper I define community in the broad, non-geographic sense of a group that shares a common ideology and outlook. The members of a community have a special sense of belonging which also means that they have an interest in maintenance of the communities moral and physical boundaries (Erikson, 1966: 10).

[2] The material on the Norwegian situation was collected in a series of six focus groups designed to examine the culture of telephony and the desirability of further developments in the distribution of visual media. For a fuller description of the methods used see Ling (1994).

[3] Erikson describe the trial of Anne Hutchinson, a ring leader in the so called Antinomian controversy of 17th century Boston, as not so much an examination of guilt or innocence vis-À-vis specific charges but rather “to invent a name for the nameless offence which Mrs. Hutchinson had committed” (1966: 101). The trial did, however, serve its purpose as a degradation ceremony for the woman.

[4] Another example of patterned labelling is afforded by the so called zoot-suit riots in Los Angeles in June, 1943 (Cosgrove, 1984; Mazon, 1984). In this case, the social strain was the Second World War. The majority opinion was that one must sacrifice for the war effort. By contrast, the zoot-suiters, who were often either black or Chicano, were seen as being less willing to volunteer for military service. In addition, they wore elaborate suits with trousers extending up under their arm pits and jackets which reached down to their knees (X, 1973). Their perceived lack of willingness to serve the country and the dress adopted by members of the minority youth culture was a provocation and allowed for the easy identification of villains. Those who supported the war effort showed their loyalty by joining the armed forces and, on the “home front,” mending old clothes to save resources. The result was that the majority community (particularly members of the military) vilified the zoot-suiters and attacked them in a series of “riots” (Klapp, 1971; Bergesen and Warr, 1979). The military police shared the prejudices of the enlisted men and turned a blind eye to their activities. Thus, there was no event to be reported in the eyes of the authorities and a de facto appropriation of the social apparatus.

[5] These included Charles II’s order to allow alternative religions, the establishment of an Anglican church in Boston-the very church which had been the cause of the Puritans’ exodus-the moves to reduce the role of the Church in public administration, the French and Indian Wars and the debates regarding the Charter of the colony.

[6] To the Puritans witches and the devil were not abstractions or fairy tale figures. Much in the same way that schizophrenia and eating disorders have a tangible reality to contemporary society, witchcraft and spirits were real in 17th century Massachusetts (Eisenstein 1991: 434-39). Thus, witchcraft could be easily seen as a palpable threat to the community.

[7] If one supported any of a series of organizations which were to the left of the political centre in the US, one could be perceived to be a communist supporter, or at least a “fellow traveller.” This included activity in labour movements and participation in groups supporting the refugees from the Spanish Civil war.

[8] Deskilling and surveillance resulting from technological development can also cause social strain. Braverman (1974) and others (Wood, 1987; Wright, 1985) have written on the relationship between technology and deskilling. While Braverman focused on the issue prior to widespread development of electronic information technology, the tendencies he points to have only intensified (Evans, 1983; Lamborghini, 1983; Leontief, 1982). For many, deskilling poses a threat to one’s job. This in turn contributes to strain in society. Another possible social strain is introduced when one considers the surveillance potential of interactive electronic media (Meyrowitz, 1986: 321).

[9] Physical boundaries mean that one is able to partition their behaviour. When in contact with such disruptive influences one is able to put on an appropriate mask, i.e. that of the disgusted community leader or the interested participant. Meyrowitz (1966: 50) notes that “the more distance there is between two situations, the more one can vary in their behaviour.” Electronic communication disrupts the possibility for partitioning. When “distinct social situations are combined” the types of behaviour which were appropriate are no longer so (Meyrowitz, 1966: 4).

[10] There have been several episodes indicating that access to information via electronic media has become a type of boundary definition issue. A California couple has been convicted of sending obscene pictures via the telephone lines to Tennessee. The court found that although the photographs may have been considered acceptable in the community of origin, they broke with local standards (Fox, 1994). Cable channel operators in the US have also began to express concern over censorship associated with the conservative shift in the US (Multi-channel News, 1994). Parents in Norway have expressed concern over access to information on narcotics and games (Furuly, 1995; Valebrook, 1995). A Norwegian television station has been accused of sending an illegal version of “Mad Max II” (Pedersen, 1995: 32). Satellite dish antennas have been banned in Iraq. Etc.

[11] Another example includes the case of Jake Baker, a University of Michigan student who was suspended for posting sexually violent stories on the Internet.

[12] In fact there was rioting associated with the apprehension of the boys in the Bulger case.

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