Beware of Shaming the Shamers

Five years ago, fat shaming was no problem for the shamers. Fat shaming in just about any context was unremarkable. It hardly caused a ripple. But no longer. Cross the line into fat shaming territory and the internet will not be happy with you. Just ask the creators of Insatiable. It could have been a funny and relevant show, touching on issues of fat shaming. But instead, it’s insulting and shallow, says Roxane Gay. So critics are panning it as “the latest example of TV hating fat women.”

No doubt, the rejection of fat shaming is a good trend. But new research suggests that backlash is a very real risk when shaming the shamers comes into play. Especially on social media.

The Paradox of Viral Outrage

Takuya Sawaoka and Benoît Monin conducted a series of six studies to examine the effects of viral outrage on social media. The outrage came in response to offensive posts with racist, sexist, or unpatriotic themes. One of the experiments used an offensive post about “fat chicks” as the stimulus.

What they found was a bit of a tipping point. When people saw viral outrage directed at an offender, they felt more sympathy for that person. Merely seeing an offensive post or a few negative comments fostered only outrage toward the offender. Sawaoka and Monin conclude that we may need to be careful about responding to offensive behaviors in this age of viral outrage.

Shaming the shamers can spiral out of control. Ultimately, equanimity can take us further than passion.

Click here for the study by Sawaoka and Monin.

Guilt, photograph © Megyarsh / flickr

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September 9, 2018