Some examples:

  • A news station giving daily "terrorist reports". It doesn't actually say how to protect yourself, just gives information on how horrible they are & why you should be afraid.
  • A airport that forces full body searches. The odds of an attack are still about zero, but passengers will believe there is a huge problem because of the extreme security measures.
  • A person never leaving the house without at least 2 firearms. Their fear of an attack is increased by buying & carrying guns, but the chances of them needing to use one is still very low.
  • 1
    Only 2 firearms! You must not be from South Chicago or South Central LA. Sep 9, 2014 at 19:11
  • 2
    Not an exact answer, but related. A useful term for what said situation leads to when the threat is against moral order is a 'moral panic'. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_panic) Depending on your usage, this can be useful to express what you mean. "These ridiculous measures are just the result of a moral panic." Sep 9, 2014 at 22:30
  • Not quite a match, but maybe "State of fear"? (Not the book. The phrase existed before the book did.)
    – Golden Cuy
    Sep 10, 2014 at 13:05
  • "Department of Homeland Security"
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 11, 2014 at 1:16

4 Answers 4


The general term I hear most often for this is security theater. From Wikipedia:

Security theater is the practice of investing in countermeasures intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little or nothing to actually achieve it.

This doesn't necessarily come with the increase in fear, but it's often associated.

An example for both issues [cost and fear] is that after a recent increase in restrictions in air travel, many frequent air travelers have expressed that they will try to avoid flying in the future. Security theater encourages people to make uninformed, counterproductive political decisions.

Of course, it's controversial exactly which measures are considered "theater" in most cases.

  • This was the term I was looking for.
    – Tain
    Sep 8, 2014 at 19:27
  • 7
    This seems to be the precise opposite of the requested term. The first two of OP's examples involve activities which increase fear while not improving security. But by definition (according to Wikipedia) the purpose of "security theater" is to decrease fear. Sep 8, 2014 at 20:26
  • 20
    @FumbleFingers My opinion is that while that may be the desired effect, the actual outcome is often exactly the opposite. As given in the example, seeing heavily guarded airways makes people assume the risk while flying is far greater than it actually is.
    – Gob Ties
    Sep 8, 2014 at 20:29
  • 4
    Well, OP says this is the "right" answer, so all I can say is the question text itself seems unclear. Sep 8, 2014 at 21:06
  • 3
    FYI, the term is generally attributed to Bruce Schneier. Sep 10, 2014 at 17:33

In the UK, the terms fear mongering or scaremongering are often thrown about, particularly in regards to the media (your "terrorist report" example). The thinking is that fear sells. However, the terms themselves are often used in a negative and hyperbolic manner, so I don't think this is what you're looking for.

  • 2
    It wasn't the term I was looking for, but it is helpful & fits better for some of my examples.
    – Tain
    Sep 9, 2014 at 15:56

Security theater is the word I often hear. In practice, I'm not sure enough people think about or realize that some "security" measures are theater. A related slang term is FUD, which stands for Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt. To me this describes the given examples better but theater answers the question title better. Note: To my knowledge, FUD is not widely known, so for most audiences should probably be introduced as "... F.U.D.- Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt, ..."

Feel free to edit my last example to have correct punctuation & grammar.

  • 4
    +1 for FUD, it makes way more sense.
    – kettlecrab
    Sep 9, 2014 at 8:21
  • FUD doesn't fit, as it is used to describe measures exclusively intented to cause fear, with no intention of increasing safety. But the question was about a term covering both at the same time.
    – Dreamer
    Sep 10, 2014 at 18:00

All your examples could also be analogous to the nocebo effect. The opposite of a placebo. Where peoples expectations about an issue lead to harmful effects.

For a word, I would suggest; recalcitrance. All media is subject to it, and most people are guilty of it to some degree.

  • 5
    Recalcitrance: resisting authority or control; not obedient or compliant. How is that in any way relevant?
    – Benubird
    Sep 9, 2014 at 15:43

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