Molly Crockett: How Social Media Amplifies Moral Outrage — The Eudemonic Project

Neuroscientist Molly Crockett and her Yale-based lab have been investigating how moral outrage – the expression of anger and disgust at the violation of a moral standard – plays out on social media and contrasting this with how it has traditionally been expressed in non-digital social settings. More broadly, they are aiming to address the question: is moral outrage in the digital age a threat to democracy? 

Dr. Crockett believes that the online sphere could be fuelling the fire of moral outrage in at least two ways. First, it’s increasing the frequency with which we are exposed to moral outrage. People report learning about immoral acts more frequently from online media than other media forms such as print, television and radio (Crockett, 2017). As people devote more and more time and attention to online material, moral outrage is increasingly becoming part of their day-to-day experience. Second, it’s increasing the spread of moral outrage. Nothing goes viral like morally outrageous content.  Research has shown that anger is the most predictive factor in determining what makes content spread (Berger & Milkman, 2012). Moreover, in a study looking at tweets on gun control, same sex marriage and climate change every moral-emotional word in a tweet increased its likelihood of being shared by 20% (Brady et al. 2017). Given the tendency of morally outrageous content to make such effective click-bait, the promotion of moral outrage could be a particularly lucrative strategy for advertising companies and online platforms that earn revenue from capturing attention. 
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