‘Killer Clowns’ highlight the dangers of social media hysteria

Just 20 years ago, a story like this simply would not have appeared in a newspaper. The development of social media means that nowadays, pictures, news, and perhaps even false information, can be shared across the world in a matter of minutes.

Content that goes viral tends to have one overarching similarity: it provokes strong emotions within people, such as anger, surprise, joy and, in this case, fear. It is not difficult to understand why a lot of people find clowns so disconcerting. They have long been associated with the ‘uncanny’. From a Freudian perspective, what makes them so unsettling is the fact that, although they are a familiar concept, there is something slightly off-kilter about them. Popular culture has served to exacerbate their frightening nature, with books such as Stephen King’s It and the film Amusement taking advantage of this deep-rooted fear.

Recently, a new phenomenon has swept the nation, having made its way over from across the Atlantic – the ‘killer clown craze’. Originating in America in the late summer, the craze has travelled at breakneck speed through cyberspace and arrived at destinations as far off as New Zealand and Russia. To gauge the scale of paranoia, one needs only look at the fact that in Kent alone, police received reports of 59 clown-related incidents in just three days.

The situation is worryingly similar closer to home, as a Facebook page called ‘Killer Clowns in and around Glasgow’ posted a photo which was shared over 1,000 times. It was later proved to be a hoax – so do these reports need to be taken seriously?

It cannot be denied that some disturbing events have indeed transpired. One teenage boy needed stitches after he was injured when a clown threw a log at him. Another 13-year-old girl was threatened with rape and having her throat cut by a so-called clown prankster, police said. Needless to say, the situation is not just something to giggle about; there is undoubtedly a sinister element to the craze.

With Halloween just around the corner, there are inevitably going to be some people who capitalise on these incidents. In the current climate of paranoia, however, perhaps that would not be the wisest decision. Of course there is a distinction to be made between someone wearing a clown costume and someone deliberately trying to cause others distress – the latter is punishable by law.
However, at this moment in time, the situation is starting to slip out of control, and police have urged shop keepers not to sell clown costumes.

Thankfully, serious incidents are the exception rather than the rule. Nevertheless, we must not forget that although many of us would not be affected in the long term by a clown playing a harmless prank, the same could not be said of young children and more vulnerable people. Like much else, it is a slippery slope – when does a prank stop being funny?

You would think that, because of the publicity the whole issue has received, people would not be as apprehensive, since most incidents have been non-violent. But, as we know, human nature is not quite as straightforward as that.

The more publicity the clowns receive, the more paranoid people become. All things considered, it is reassuring to think that clowns can be legally reprimanded if they deliberately try and intimidate people.
So if you happen to encounter a ‘killer clown’ in the street, try to bear in mind that they are only people in masks looking for laughs and attention – if they do anything to harm you, they are criminals.


Image: AP Photo/Felipe Dana

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