Overperception of moral outrage in online social networks inflates beliefs about intergroup hostility 

Monday, January 23, 2023 (3:30 PM – 5:00 PM)

William J. Brady

Assistant Professor
Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

As individuals and political leaders increasingly take to online networks for social interactions, it is important to understand how the platforms that host them can shape social knowledge of morality and politics. In this work, I propose that features of social media environments including dysfunctional human-algorithm interactions may be conducive to misperceptions of moral emotions at the individual and group level with consequences for intergroup conflict. Utilizing a Twitter field survey, I measured authors’ outrage in real time and compared author reports to judgments made by observers. I find that social media users tend to overperceive moral outrage expression at the individual-level, inferring more intense outrage experiences from messages than the authors of those messages themselves actually report. Individual-level overperceptions were also associated with greater social media use to learn about politics. Follow-up experiments find that these individual misperceptions cause misperceptions of collective outrage, which also amplifies perceptions of hostile communication norms, group affective polarization and ideological extremity. Together, these results highlight how individual-level misperceptions of online emotions produce collective misperceptions that have the potential to exacerbate intergroup conflict. I end considerations for content moderation on digital social platforms.

If you would like to meet with the speaker, please click here to contact Rachael Hamilton.