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Cyberbullying: The Social Construction of a Moral Panic

Communication and Information Technologies Annual

ISBN: 978-1-78350-629-3, eISBN: 978-1-78350-582-1

Publication date: 27 November 2014



To analyze the emergence of cyberbullying in the news and to unveil the extent to which this new social problem is being constructed as a moral panic.


Ethnographic content analysis is conducted on a sample of 477 local and national newspaper articles published from 2004 to 2011. Goode and Ben-Yehuda’s five criteria of a moral panic – consensus, concern, hostility, disproportionality, and volatility – are used as a lens to analyze how this issue emerged in U.S. culture.


News coverage of this issue erupted within a very short time period, drawing important attention to a previously unknown social problem facing youth. Yet in the construction of cyberbullying as a new threat to social order, the news coverage sometimes inflates the magnitude and severity of the problem. In doing so, the media work to misrepresent, misinform, and oversimplify what is a more complicated and perhaps not yet fully understood issue among youth today.


Electronic aggression is something that is of growing concern to children, parents, educators, and policymakers. Evidence has begun to show that its effects may be as harmful as face-to-face bullying. Since the media play a vital role in the designation of certain issues as worthy of the public’s attention, it is pertinent that this information is presented in an accurate fashion, rather than simply promoting a moral panic around the topic.

Research limitations/implications

Future research should move beyond print media to examine how TV, popular culture, and social media sites construct this problem. This should include research on the public’s understanding and interpretation of these mediated forms of communication.



Waldron, L.M. (2014), "Cyberbullying: The Social Construction of a Moral Panic", Communication and Information Technologies Annual (Studies in Media and Communications, Vol. 8), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 197-230.



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