Studying the dark side of online outrage

A graphic image of a raised thumb in front of a burning computer monitor.

Moral outrage historically has helped identify and punish some of the worst malefactors among us; however that original purpose could be perverted in the Internet age, argues Yale psychologist Molly Crockett in the Sept. 18 issue of the journal Nature Human Behavior.

Online expressions of outrage are generally only heard by individuals with similar beliefs and prejudices, and so may do little to improve behavior of individuals, according to experts. Unlike in the past, people can express outrage with little effort and risk to themselves, they note, and the affirmation received on social media may encourage more expressions of vitriol, which could further exacerbate growing social divides.

Crockett presents evidence that people feel more outraged by what they see online than by conflicts in their daily lives.  “If moral outrage is a fire, the internet is like gasoline,” Crockett writes.

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