Marwick, A. E. (2021). Morally motivated networked harassment as normative reinforcement. Social Media + Society, 7(2).
Open access: Yes
Notes: In this article, Marwick seeks to explore networked harassment—that is, harassment in which an individual is harassed by groups of people connected through social media platforms. More specifically, she explores the notion of morally motivated networked harassment, where “a member of a social network accuses a target of violating the network’s norms, triggering moral outrage. Network members send harassing messages to the target, reinforcing their adherence to the norm and signaling network membership” (p. 4). As a result, Marwick produces a model of morally-motivated networked harassment, which functions as follows:
Networked harassment (…) typically begins by identifying one or more norm violations (the accusation) and tying it to a specific person, brand, or organization (the target), together creating a justification for harassment. This accusation is promoted by one or many key accounts or network nodes, such as highly followed social media accounts or influencers (the amplifier). Often, but not always, the amplifier is in a different social network than the target. Members of the amplifiers’ networked audience, who share an ideological or moral framework, individually send ad hominem attacks, insults, slurs, and in the worst cases, threats of death, rape, and violence to the accused (brigading, dogpiling, or “calling out”). Individual targets typically experience stress, depression, and other psychological harms, frequently resulting in self-censorship and withdrawal from social media participation. Simultaneously, the ideological consensus of the accusing network is reinforced through a common enemy and the symbolic boundaries between contexts are reinforced. Thus, harassment becomes a regulating force in which speech is removed from the public sphere. (p. 5).
This network harassment, moreover, has three primary outcomes: affective and emotional harm, self-censorship, and the reinforcement of norms of participating networks.
Abstract: While online harassment is recognized as a significant problem, most scholarship focuses on descriptions of harassment and its effects. We lack explanations of why people engage in online harassment beyond simple bias or dislike. This article puts forth an explanatory model where networked harassment on social media functions as a mechanism to enforce social order. Drawing from examples of networked harassment taken from qualitative interviews with people who have experienced harassment (n = 28) and Trust & Safety workers at social platforms (n = 9), the article builds on Brady, Crockett, and Bavel’s model of moral contagion to explore how moral outrage is used to justify networked harassment on social media. In morally motivated networked harassment, a member of a social network or online community accuses a target of violating their network’s norms, triggering moral outrage. Network members send harassing messages to the target, reinforcing their adherence to the norm and signaling network membership. Frequently, harassment results in the accused self-censoring and thus regulates speech on social media. Neither platforms nor legal regulations protect against this form of harassment. This model explains why people participate in networked harassment and suggests possible interventions to decrease its prevalence.