Outrage, social media and knee-jerk responses

I have a new post up at the Guardian that you can go and fight with.


I quite like this piece by Laura Hudson at Wired on when the bullied becomes the bullies in the age of social media.

I think it’s a difficult discussion and, though I like the article, I’m not sure how far I agree. Probably about *sucks thumb* 90%.

As should be obvious from my Guardian piece, I am worried about the kinds of reactions we have; the sort of horrible name-calling, derision, threats, and pile-ons that can occur – even for a good cause.

After all, we don’t have licence to, for example, threaten homophobes with death. (I wouldn’t want to associate with anyone that did that, which would undermine the cause itself.)

To think we’re immune in our responses because we’re on the moral side is a dangerous precedent, I think. Just because we’re morally right in our position doesn’t make automatically morally right in whatever way we respond.


  1. LicoriceAllsort says

    I’m breaking the cycle of self-doubt to leave a comment. (“Is this a knee-jerk reaction? Am I outraged? Have I thought this through?”)

    First, your article doesn’t conflate knee jerks with people who have good reason to grind on axes, but people who are fond of tone trolling often do make this category error. I agree that we should temper our outrage with facts, but we should still leave room for outrage-with-facts as a legitimate reaction, particularly from the recipients of abuse. Your article was careful to leave room for this possibility, it seems, so I point this out more to anyone who’s inclined to cite the article in response to legitimately angry commentary.

    Secondly, this is the second or third time today that I’ve seen a citation for the Feb 2013 internet comments paper. Two limitations of the study are that they gauged immediate reactions, and study participants only read 1 blog post. I tend to think of repeated exposure to negative commentary that is combined with facts, particularly when directed at specific internet commenters, as one potentially useful tool that can be effective when combined with other types of engagement. That wasn’t a topic of study of this paper; however, the paper is being used to support calls for more civil dialogue in general. IMO, there is a place for uncivil dialogue, and the issue is more determining where that place is and not whether incivility is useful, in general.