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When moral outrage goes viral, it can come across as bullying, Stanford study finds

Stanford psychologists find that while individual comments against offensive behavior on social media are seen as admirable, when comments multiply they may lead to greater sympathy for the offender. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Aug 9 2018

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Faculty, In the News, Students

Stanford psychologists find that when online comments pile up against an individual’s questionable behavior, people are more likely to see it as bullying and start to feel sympathy for the offender.

By Melissa De Witte

On social media, people can be quick to call attention to racist, sexist or unpatriotic behavior they see. But when that outcry goes viral, those challenging the behavior may be perceived less as noble heroes doing the right thing and more like bullies doling out excessive punishment, say Stanford researchers in a new paper for Psychological Science.

Through a series of laboratory studies, Stanford psychology Professor Benoît Monin and graduate student Takuya Sawaoka found that while comments against offensive behavior are seen as legitimate and even admirable as individual remarks, when they multiply they may lead to greater sympathy for the offender.