The Paradox of Viral Outrage

The Paradox of Viral Outrage

By
Takuya Sawaoka, Benoît Monin
Psychological Science. October
2018, Vol. 29, Issue 10, Pages 1665-1678

Moral outrage has traditionally served a valuable social function, expressing group values and inhibiting deviant behavior, but the exponential dynamics of Internet postings make this expression of legitimate individual outrage appear excessive and unjust. The same individual outrage that would be praised in isolation is more likely to be viewed as bullying when echoed online by a multitude of similar responses, as it then seems to contribute to disproportionate group condemnation. Participants (N = 3,377) saw racist, sexist, or unpatriotic posts with accompanying expressions of outrage and formed impressions of a single commenter. The same commenter was viewed more negatively when accompanied by a greater number of commenters (i.e., when outrage was viral vs. nonviral), and this was because viral outrage elicited greater sympathy toward the initial offender. We examined this effect and its underlying processes across six studies.