Social Media Harms
Do You Post Angry, Extreme Tweets to Reaffirm Views You Are Beginning to Doubt?
Or is it that Twitter Is Training You to be a Troll?
Moral outrage is defined by C. Daniel Baston and colleagues as:
“anger provoked by the perception that a moral standard — usually a standard of fairness or justice — has been violated (Hoffman, 2000; Montada &Schneider, 1989).”
Bence Nanay, PhD., a professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University noted in his Psychology Today blog that moral outrage is expanding exponentially on social media for two reasons. First, because it is good for publicity (and corporate profits) and secondly, because moral outrage has an emotion-regulating effect, especially for people who are insecure about their beliefs or have a need to alleviate guilt.
Social Learning Theory and Twitter
An August 2021 study by Yale University’s Department of Psychology showed how social learning is involved in expressions of moral outrage on Twitter. Researchers William Brady, Killian McLoughlin, Tuan Doan and Molly Crockett concluded that people who use Twitter changed the content and emotional tone of their tweets based upon a combination of receiving positive or negative feedback through “likes” and “shares” (“reinforcement learning”) and by making their tweets similar to the messaging posted by users they follow (“norm learning”).
The researchers conducted four studies: two involving 7,331 users and analyzing 12.7M tweets and two behavioral studies involving 240 users. Using machine learning, they measured the tweets “moral outrage” or expressions of anger, disgust or contempt written as a result of what users regarded as a violation of their personal morals and associated with:
“specific reactions including blaming people/events/things, holding them responsible, or wanting to punish them.”
The authors found that members of ideologically extreme social networks internalized their feelings of moral outrage. The more their newsfeeds showed them ideologically extreme content, the more individual users accepted and included those messages and values as a part of their world view.
Technology Plays a Role
The authors state:
“Social media newsfeed algorithms can directly affect how much social feedback a given post receives by determining how many other users are exposed to that post. ….[As] social feedback affects users’ outrage expressions over time, this suggests that newsfeed algorithms can influence users’ moral behaviors by exploiting their natural tendencies for reinforcement learning. In this way, reinforcement learning on social media differs from reinforcement learning in other environments because crucial inputs to the learning process are shaped by corporate interests (26, 52).”
“Even if platform designers do not intend to amplify moral outrage, design choices aimed at satisfying other goals such as profit maximization via user engagement can indirectly affect moral behavior because outrage-provoking content draws high engagement (29–31).”
Tips for Reducing Troll-like Behavior
Jaron Lanier, virtual reality founding father and internet Yoda, recommends deleting your Twitter account in his 2019 book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. New research findings published since the book’s release are only making his arguments stronger. Twitter’s newsfeed algorithm is slowly training its users to be angrier, and to internalize radical ideas shared by the users they follow. Twitter is making many users more anxious and unhappy.
Addiction psychiatrist and neuroscientist, Dr. Jud Brewer, has an often repeated saying, that breaking bad habits (like doomscrolling on Twitter) is “simple, but not easy” that is, simple concepts, hard to implement.
If deleting your Twitter account is too extreme for you right now, there are other actions you can take:
- Delete the Twitter app from your smartphone. This will keep you from Twitter scrolling while you are bored.
- Limit ALL social media platform use to less than 30 minutes a day. Watch out for in-app timers. Techcrunch reported on Feb 21, 2022 that Instagram removed options for users to set its timer for any period lower than 30 minutes.
The decision, dear reader, is yours to make. Check out the links… decide for yourself.
“When You Know Better, You Do Better” -Maya Angelou
Social Media Harms was developed to provide listings of peer-reviewed research studies, authoritative articles, well-researched books and videos regarding the downsides of social media platforms.