Fear mongering is the intentional act of instilling fear in people. This raises several questions: Do the ends justify the means? How can one detect fear mongering? Who is responsible for it? What are some fear mongering examples? In this article, I’ll explore the concept of fear mongering, its effectiveness, and provide examples. Additionally, I’ll discuss how to identify fear mongering and examine the negative consequences of such tactics.
What is Fear Mongering?
Cambridge Dictionary defines Fear Mongering as:
“the action of intentionally trying to make people afraid of something when this is not necessary or reasonable”.
So fear mongering is an intentional act, a “means to and end” to invoke us to take action on a particular subject regardless of the facts, real or imagined.
Why People Use Fear Mongering Examples.
People use fear mongering because it works. Indeed, it preys upon our natural instinct to take action against things we fear. Positively, fear, real or imagined, is the most powerful motivator to motivate us to take action. Below are the 3 major reasons why fear mongering is widely used by people, businesses, and governments:
1. Fear Messaging is Twice as Effective as Non-Fear Messaging.
For example, “fear can be used to drive votes toward a particular candidate or party—a method that relies on our natural instinct to find safety in numbers … messages with fear are nearly twice as effective as messages without fear…” See American Psychological Association’s Fear: A powerful motivator in elections.
2. It is Easy To Fear Monger – the 5% Rule.
All of us want to be 100% protected from anything we fear, but in life there is never 100% certainty on anything. Because of this fear mongers will take advantage of this human desire for 100% risk aversion. In particular, fear mongers will give us the “5 percent perspective” by providing us extreme examples of risks be it crime, health issues, social issues, and so. In fact, it is always easy to find extreme examples of the issue and represent it as the whole situation. See Newsweek’s opinion piece COVID-19 and the Fear-Mongering Five-Percenters by Robert Gold.
3. Tribalism Drives Fear Mongering.
“Tribalism is the biological loophole that many politicians have banked on for a long time … Some examples are Nazism, the Ku Klux Klan, religious wars and the Dark Ages. Specifically, the typical pattern is to give the other humans a different label than us. For example, the fear monger will say these people are going to harm us or our resources. Indeed, they turn the other group into a concept [the faceless enemy].
Also, tribalism does not have to necessarily be race or nationality, which are used very often. For example, there can be any real or imaginary difference: liberals, conservatives, Middle Easterners, white men, the right, the left, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs. Indeed, the list goes on and on. See The Conversation’s The politics of fear: How fear goes tribal, allowing us to be manipulated and Political Tribalism in America.
How We Can Detect Fear Mongering Examples.
There are some tell-tale signs where we can identify fear mongering messaging versus legitimate fears based on facts. Here are 5 signs where the messaging we are receiving is really fear mongering.
1. Fear Mongers Speak For Others.
Here the fear monger puts words into the mouth of the opponent instead of us hearing from the source. For instance, you will hear phrases like “They will … [do something you don’t like].” Undeniably, this happens a lot on cable news and social media.
2. Fear Mongers Manufacture Vulnerabilities.
An example is “They are out there, waiting, and will attack when we least expect it.”
3. Fear Mongers Over-Generalize.
For example, it is upsetting when a criminal gang in one neighborhood in one city kills a man. However, it does not mean that there are criminal gangs in every neighborhood who will kill everyone living in them.
4. Fear Mongers Wrongfully Attribute Things To Others.
Take the case where you hear that someone from group A attacked someone in your own group, group B. In this instance, it is easy for a fear monger to fan the flame of ethnic/religious/political differences. As a result, you now believe there is no way you could ever trust anyone in group B.
5. Fear Mongers Use Music and Imagery To Promote Fear.
Music and Imagery can trigger emotions in ourselves. As a result, fear mongers will use these as tools to promote fear. So, pay attention to what kinds of music and images are in the background. You see this a lot in political ads.
See posting from Center for Free, Fair, and Accountable Democracy (CFFAD) on Fear and Fear-Mongering for more on fear mongering
Fear Mongering Examples and Its Consequences.
Most of us would agree that fear mongering is wrong, but the majority of us will hold strong views either way on the actual outcome or objectives of fear mongering. It is a moral question of whether “the means justifies the ends”. Below are some examples of fear mongering that we are subjected to in many areas of our lives.
1. Political Campaign Advertisements Example.
An often cited example of political fear mongering was the “Daisy” advertisement run by Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidential campaign playing on the fear of nuclear annihilation.
2. Mass Media and Social Media Example.
Advertising is a major user of fear mongering. Indeed, all forms of free media supported by advertising will use fear mongering to get “more clicks” for their advertisers. For example, “Hot Button” issues include crime, health, finance, and any trending topic.
3. Product advertisements Example.
Also, “Shockvertising“, a form of fear mongering, is regularly used by advertisers to sell their products. For instance, fear tactics include safety issues like air bags in cars, lurking bacteria for disinfectant commercials, and so on.
4. Psychological Warfare Example.
Also, fear mongering is routinely used in psychological warfare to influence a target population. In the case of fear mongering the target audience is in many cases a domestic audience. Examples include: the “Red Scare” in the Twenith Century and the campaign to put Japanese (to include U.S. citizens) in internment camps after Pearl Harbor. Another example, is when a democratic country goes to far on “war on terrorism” campaigns that place extreme limited citizen’s rights in regard to warrentless searches.
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