Doing Good or Feeling Good? Justice Concerns Predict Online Shaming Via Deservingness and Schadenfreude
52 Pages Posted: 23 Feb 2023
Public shaming has moved from the village square and is now an established online phenomenon. The current paper explores 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). We examine two key aspects of social media that may moderate these processes: anonymity (Study 1) and social norms (the responses of other users; Studies 2-3). Across three experiments (N = 225, 198, 202) participants were presented with a fabricated news article featuring an instance of Islamophobia and given the opportunity to respond. Participants’ concerns about social justice were not directly positively associated with online shaming and had few consistent indirect effects on shaming via moral outrage. Rather, justice concerns were primarily associated with shaming via participants’ perception that the offender was deserving of negative consequences, and their feelings of schadenfreude regarding these consequences. Anonymity did not moderate this process and there was mixed evidence for the qualifying effect of social norms. 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.
Keywords: online shaming, schadenfreude, deservingness, social justice, moral outrage
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