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Social Media Companies vs. the “Moral Mob”

August 10, 2018

There is recent research by Stanford University that may be of some interest to social media companies and their clients. It indicates that when someone is subjected to mass shaming for objectionable content posted on Facebook, Twitter, or other platforms, the ultimate effect is often the opposite of what the “moral mob” intended.

Instead of promoting similarly negative attention among neutral observers, the purveyors of outrage can come across as bullies and generate sympathy for their targets. This may be something for social media companies to keep in mind if they ever find themselves in the difficult position of having to oversee a client’s recovery from an insensitive or problematic social media gaffe.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that anyone uses the research as a roadmap for spouting racist or sexist content and then avoiding consequences. But if the clients of social media companies become targets of outrage due to an honest mistake, there may be ways for those companies to play up the sympathetic response that emerges when the backlash goes too far.

It’s probably never advantageous to go fishing for that sympathy, but when it begins to emerge, social media companies can certainly utilize it to increase engagement between a client’s account and those followers who are most likely to overlook short-lived errors and encourage long-term brand loyalty, thereby helping to keep the effects of the moral mob in check.

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