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“Killer clown” sightings in BC terrorize local population

Communication professor Gary McCarron suggests the clown phenomenon has caused moral panic

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Image Credits: Eleanor Qu

Those afraid of clowns may want to stay inside this Halloween season.

Sightings of people dressed as clowns have become a phenomenon recently, with reports in many cities of the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The unprecedented trend of so-called “killer clowns” has taken over social media platforms including Twitter and Instagram.

Simultaneously, the notoriety of clown sightings has crept into North Americans’ lives, leading to disruptions in school schedules or causing a frenzy in neighbourhoods.

The first of these sightings reportedly occurred in South Carolina, US. They have since become a common occurrence in other cities across the country. This phenomenon has also slowly worked its way into Canada, where there have been incidents in the cities of Prince George and Langley in British Columbia, as well as in Nova Scotia.

The student spotted a clown near the Duthie Avenue bus stop, which is approximately 10 minutes from the Burnaby campus.

The cause of the sightings is undetermined as of yet; however, Gary McCarron, an associate professor from the faculty of communication at SFU, has helped shed some light on the social media phenomenon.

“I don’t think there is a single cause for such events, but the absurdity of the story was sufficient to spawn immediate imitators,” he said. As per McCarron’s observations,  clown sightings have increased exponentially throughout the month of October.

Professor McCarron stated that the involvement of mass media helped create hysteria within the public and spurred a phenomenon known as “moral panic” — something sociologist Stanley Cohen called “a condition, episode, person, or group of persons [that] emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests.”

McCarron agreed when asked if the pranks are going “too far.” He also noted that “the responses to such pranks can themselves risk going too far.” While newsfeeds have been filled with overwhelming coverage on an issue that has caused a frenzy, the professor suggested that the phenomenon could be thriving due to its proliferation by young people through social media channels.

SFU student Irmak Erdal resorted to Snapchat to share her experience of encountering a clown. Erdal spotted the individual near the Duthie Avenue bus stop, which is approximately 10 minutes from the Burnaby campus. The clown had casual clothes on with a mask, with hair on either sides of his head and a bald spot in the centre.

She described being consumed with “shock” and “fear” when the prankster walked towards her. She alleged that the clown had started to pick something up from the ground when the bus arrived, returning her to safety.

Professor McCarron argued that the moral panic among young people has spread fear about killer clowns, but he believes that this phenomenon will not last much longer.

“The story gathered steam in a way that is certainly out of proportion to its newsworthiness,” he stated.

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