Social media shaming is not motivated by genuine social justice concern: Study

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Social media shaming is not motivated by genuine social justice concern: Study

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It has become a bit of a ritual over the past few years: A person does or says something a portion of the population finds offensive, a social media pile-on ensues, and a ritual apology, complete with acknowledgments of “harm” and commitments to “get educated,” is issued. Sometimes the initial action or comment is genuinely objectionable. Many times, however, it is not. If this is the case, then it begs the question: Why are people engaging in social media shaming and pile-ons?

A recent paper from scholars at Princeton University and Flinders University, titled “Doing Good or Feeling Good? Justice Concerns Predict Online Shaming Via Deservingness and Schadenfreude,” tries to answer that very question.


In particular, the paper examined “whether online shaming is motivated by a person’s desire to do good (a justice motive); and/or, because it feels good (a hedonic motive), specifically, as a form of malicious pleasure at another’s misfortune (schadenfreude).”

Through three studies, the researchers found that “participants’ concerns about social justice were not directly positively associated with online shaming and had few consistent indirect effects on shaming via moral outrage.” They concluded, “Overall, the current studies point to the hedonic motive in general and schadenfreude specifically as a key moral emotion associated with people’s shaming behaviour.”

These findings, while initially counterintuitive, also seem to align with the attitude of many online who engage in such shaming. The “woke,” or militantly “politically correct,” crowd puts a strong emphasis on virtue signaling, moral superiority, and, along with it, public shaming. These characteristics are natural bedfellows, as public shaming is an easy way to demonstrate one’s own superior virtue.

Columbia University professor and New York Times columnist John McWhorter aptly identified the ideologues this study is referencing as a part of a new public religion — complete with faith, sin, and repentance. But while proper religions encourage and are inherently tied up with important virtues, this new “woke” religion does the opposite.

This research on social media shaming is not the only evidence pointing to the fact there are negative attributes associated with activism on the far Left. Another recent study found that “narcissism and psychopathy predict left-wing authoritarianism,” and yet another “found that narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and entitlement were associated with both ‘authoritarian political correctness and alt-right attitudes.’”


Importantly, though, these traits are not exclusively linked to left-wing extremism. Right-wing extremism has been studied extensively and consistently is connected to negative qualities as well. And this makes sense, too. Extremist political ideologies seem to be adopted in order to fill a void when there are major problems in other areas of one’s life.

As such, we can look at right- and left-wing extremism as two sides of the same coin — even if, in the real world, one has significantly more political and cultural power than the other.

Jack Elbaum is a summer 2023 Washington Examiner fellow.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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