News manipulation is now a much-discussed reality of 21st century media ethics. Daniel Khaneman has identified that people have a tendency to respond to complex issues in a problematic manner – often making use of instincts (System 1 or S1) in knee jerk responses when a more rational (Systems 2 or S2) approach might be more appropriate. Simply put, human beings have a flawed process for problem structuring. In research carried out between 2015-16 with people engaged in and concerned with climate change, a series of interviews were undertaken concerning public attitudes to fear as a major force in the climate change debate.The results have paved the way to describing a process – the “paradigm of fear,” whereby fear can be weaponised in order to promote knee jerk responses to complex issues. The results of the research were published in a book (Formations of Terror) and a comic (Project Fear)* but lasting questions remain to be addressed: Is fear weaponised by lobbyists in order to promote public response? If fear is weaponised to prompt populations to change, is such action ethical and responsible? Do climate change activists have a responsibility to orientate arguments to the rational and reflective rather than the instinctive and automatic? Describing the formations of terror as a device for fear management, this paper explores the ways in which fear can and is used by all sides in the climate change debate and raises questions about the ethics of social manipulation for even the best of causes.
Simon Bell, United Kingdom
[Sen. Ed. Note: Bell prefers the title: “Fake News, Fear, Sustainability and the Paradigm of Fear: The Weaponization of Fear as a Lever for the Good?” ]
Much of this paper is drawn from and builds upon an earlier book. The fuller version of this paper is to be found in Bell, S. 2017. Formations of Terror. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars
*For more info: https://fearlessnessmovement.ning.com/blog/operation-project-fear-the-open-university-uk pp. 91-107