Appeal to Fear Fallacy

An appeal to fear fallacy occurs when someone uses fear to drive a response to an argument. Typically, fear is used to make a decision or position seem fraught with negative consequences. Often, an appeal to fear fallacy occurs in conjunction with a slippery slope fallacy.

In our comic below, you can see how an appeal to fear has been used to provoke an irrational reaction to a new policy decision.

A comic about an appeal to fear fallacy.

Image Transcript
Panel One:
Title Card: Doctor Fallacy gives Captain Logic the shivers in… An Appeal to Fear!

Panel Two:
Scene: A suburban home. Inside, a mom listens to the radio in the company of her friend, the villainous costumed owl Doctor Fallacy.
Radio: Today, the governor announced plans to move forward with the state’s ban on capital punishment.

Panel Three:
The mom looks shaken by the news.
Doctor Fallacy: It’s just like we talked about.
Mom: Oh dear…
Radio: More news, after these messages…

Panel Four:
The mom now holds a hammer. Her adult son arrives home.
Adult Son: Mom? What’s going on?
Mom: Get inside! We need to board up the windows!

Panel Five:
Now, the mom is wheeling an antique cannon into the kitchen.
Adult Son: Whoa! Slow down!
Mom: We have to defend the house! Doctor Fallacy told me what will happen if they get rid of the death penalty.

Panel Six:
The mom now swings a chainsaw around.
Mom: There’s going to be a purge!

Panel Seven:
The adult son scratches his head as his mom remains panicked.
Adult Son: Mom… I don’t think that’s true.
Mom: Murderers running around with no consequences!

Panel Eight:
The heroic owl Captain Logic bursts in.
Captain Logic: Ma’am, I’m here to help! Doctor Fallacy has used an appeal to fear to cloud your mind! The only danger you face is from faulty logic!
Mom: Intruder!
Doctor Fallacy: Should’ve barricaded the door…

Panel Nine:
Adult Son: See? What did I tell you about getting your news from masked owls?
Mom: He said he was a doctor!

For a screen reader compatible slideshow version of the comic, please click through the below images:

While the above example might seem outlandish, appeals to fear are one of the fallacies you’re most likely to encounter in everyday life. Media outlets frequently use fear to drive engagement with their stories, and political campaigns have been using fear-based messaging for hundreds of years. Appeals to fear prey on the less well-informed, so it’s always important to try analyzing and understanding the underlying issue. Ask yourself: who is trying to scare me and why?

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