A study recently published in the open-access journal Science Advances by Yale University researchers showed that social media platforms like Twitter magnify moral outrage over time. This is because users begin to understand that such language (read: rants) get more validation in terms of ‘likes’ and ‘shares.’ This largely influences how people with politically moderate networks post on social media.
These rewards impact the tone in which we tend to have political conversations online. The Yale team measured the level of outrage on Twitter during real-life controversial events, and studied the behaviours of the subjects in controlled trials. These experiments were designed to test whether social media algorithms encouraged users to express anger online. This study is the first evidence we have that people tend to express more rage over time–on social media–because they get social rewards.
While social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter claim to be providing a neutral platform for conversations, many have speculated that these amplify outrage. The researchers built a software that tracked moral outrage in Twitter posts. They found that out of 12.7 million tweets by 7,331 users, those who expressed outrage and got a lot of likes and retweets were more likely to take to the platform to express anger later.
The report also showed that members of politically extreme networks expressed more outrage than those of moderate networks however, the latter were more influenced by social rewards. This suggests that moderate groups can be politically radicalised over time, with the increase in social rewards creating positive feedback for the users.