Social media platforms like Twitter amplify expressions of moral outrage over time because users learn such language gets rewarded with an increased number of “likes” and “shares,” a new Yale University study shows.
And these rewards had the greatest influence on users connected with politically moderate networks.
“Social media’s incentives are changing the tone of our political conversations online,” said Yale’s William Brady, a postdoctoral researcher in the Yale Department of Psychology and first author of the study. He led the research with Molly Crockett, an associate professor of psychology at Yale.
The Yale team measured the expression of moral outrage on Twitter during real life controversial events and studied the behaviors of subjects in controlled experiments designed to test whether social media’s algorithms, which reward users for posting popular content, encourage outrage expressions.
“This is the first evidence that some people learn to express more outrage over time because they are rewarded by the basic design of social media,” Brady said.