The Media, The Internet and a whole lot of legal highs

The past 12 months have been some of the most newsworthy in my living memory, any of the dozen major stories would usually suffice to sell a whole summers worth of papers. We had uprisings all across the Middle East, the ‘heroic’ murders of Bin Laden and Gaddafi, near end-of-times nuclear meltdown in Japan (that still no one seems to recognise as such) and the London riots … the London riots man, Christ. I’m not gonna comment on any of this though because you have no doubt had about as many BBC News 24 brain injections and as much red-top paper discourse as you can handle for one year. I am going to comment on what the newspapers do when they don’t have such perfectly crafted wars, assassinations and all out anarchy to shift copies by the millions. What happens when every one’s phone has been hacked and there is still nothing more interesting to talk about than Justin Bieber’s love child?

The dubious ethical procedures of Rupert Murdoch’s finest has come under a lot of scrutiny this year but there is nothing like kicking a corrupt institution whilst it’s down. I’m gonna go back a couple of years and chat about the media’s role in the mephedrone epidemic. Sociologists worked out a while ago that newspapers have a little trick up their sleeve when they need to sell papers or avert the people’s watchful gaze away from more pressing economic issues. The name of the dish is moral panic and the ingredients can be picked up in any local fear-based culture; one portion of ‘deviance’, a well prepared reactionary public and a nefarious media cartel on which to serve. Take the small act of what you have deemed deviant, label it as such and exaggerate until the public become duly concerned. Sprinkle articles with charged words and amplified bullshit and then grossly simplify the issue. This should rouse enough awareness about the ‘deviance’ to cause a fearful reaction amongst those who are so disposed and an eager interest in those who are looking for something rebellious with which to identify themselves. Continue to exaggerate the now growing problem and let it spiral into a moral panic, at this point you may wish to pressure the government to make a change in policy based purely on generalisations and ignorant public outrage. Once you have sold as many papers as possible move onto another story before people realise that it was you the media tycoon that created this panic to begin with. The last step in the recipe is entirely optional as most people will swallow your bullshit and never question the all-knowing newspaper however, they are a fickle bunch and would prefer something else to sink their teeth into.

Mephedrone, or as the newspapers called it ‘meow meow’, had been ‘on the scene’ for some time, it was a legal high and could be bought from the internet as easily anal porn. Despite its legal status and relatively low price it was only used amongst curious individuals until later on in 2009. The earliest report I could find on mephedrone in the UK was from April, 2009 with a lacklustre and informative headline from The Telegraph “Psychiatrists call for ‘legal high’ drug 4-MMC to be banned”, you’re never gonna create a moral panic like that guys. If you really wanna get the kids sniffing it and the parents worrying about it you need a headline like The Sun’s “Legal drug teen ripped his scrotum off”, beautifully worded bullshit based on a story from an internet forum that turned out to be a complete hoax. It’s got it all; gross misinformation, disgusting imagery, rebellious teenage subculture and above all panic inducing discourse. This was only the first stage of the carefully crafted panic that had been planned for 2010 by the United Kingdom’s media. The Sun know from their sociological insight that moral panics don’t happen over-night, you need to give them time to spiral. It wasn’t until the spring of 2010 that Britain started to really panic. By April there had been 26 mephedrone implicated deaths in the news, yet not one coroner had blamed any of these solely on the drug. During March headlines stating that mephedrone was killing people were commonplace; “Killer drug meow meow being flown into Britain every day” (The Mirror), “Schools told to seize killer drug” (The Daily Mail), “Killer meow meow drugs to be banned by end of this year” (The Sun). In a few short months the red-top papers had gone from instigating and planning the panic to ushering in a full-blown epidemic. All that was left now was some rushed changes in policy by the government in order to try and shut people up, ignoring the real issue at hand. Cue talks by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. I think the conclusion they came to was something like; “Let’s just make it a class B drug and be done with it, I’m still pissed from our lunch break and I left my Prozac at home.”.

This decision actually provoked two members of the council to resign, this is just one year after Prof. Nutt was sacked from the council for speaking the truth about the real (or rather not-so-real) dangers of Ecstasy when compared to horse riding. Dr. Polly Taylor and Eric Carlin both quit after the rushed decisions made by the council, Carlin gave his reasons as such “We had little or no discussion about how our recommendation to classify this drug would be likely to impact on young people’s behaviour. … Our decision was unduly based on media and political pressure. … As well as being extremely unhappy with how the ACMD operates, I am not prepared to continue to be part of a body which, as its main activity, works to facilitate the potential criminalisation of increasing numbers of young people.”. These later facts were of course not plastered across the red-top papers, their sales had be bolstered by this dirty trick during the first part of 2010 what did they care about encouraging and then criminalising Britain’s youth over the period of a few months? They moved onto their next story without a care at the panic they had caused and the innocents they had incriminated.

Now, some of you may think that I am exaggerating, with my typical Marxist rhetoric, about the extent to which the media orchestrated the now infamous mephedrone epidemic of twenty-ten. But I have done my research into this and the following image goes a long way to suggest that what I’m saying is not all paranoid anti-establishment, pro-drug ramblings.

‘Buy mephedrone’ searches on Google, Jan 2009-2011

This is a Google ‘Insights for Search’ graph that shows how many times ‘buy mephedrone’ was searched for between Janurary 2009 and January 2011, notice the sharp rise during November 2009 steadily progressing into the full-blown moral panic during March when the papers were regularly reporting it as ‘killer’. Not only this but searches were pretty much exclusive to the U.K. and Ireland, further suggesting that this whole debacle was engineered by the (Great) British press. I’m hoping that most of you are already aware of the fact that newspapers often engineer the news and thoughtlessly believing their crap is not recommended however, I also hope that this brief account of behavioural engineering has shown that their games run far deeper than making things up; they also make things happen without any regard for the consequences.

Of late newspapers haven’t had to use such obvious dutty tricks like this because the governments are busy engineering wars, uprisings and fake assassinations that give the press plenty of theatrical world-stage distractions to write about and pretend that it is all above board and legitimate. They must be good little subservient boys and girls to the state, at least until everyone has forgotten about the phone-hacking scandal and the tug of war between parliament and press continues into the epic unravelling decade we are experiencing.

Written by Nelly Nonsense