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Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Doing Good or Feeling Good? Justice Concerns Predict Online Shaming Via Deservingness and Schadenfreude

Barron, A., Woodyatt, L., et al. (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.


The results from three studies point to perceptions of deservingness and schadenfreude as important predictors of online shaming. Given the exploratory nature of the current work and the paucity of existing research on online shaming, many avenues exist for future research. Social psychology is well placed to understand both individual and group processes that may influence shaming behaviour – in particular, how certain features of the online environment and aspects of the transgressor may interact to influence the nature and severity of online shaming behaviour. As society continues to rely on social media to consume content and connect with others, we are hopeful that future research stimulates a more comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of online shaming and its consequences. 

Here are some additional key points from the article:
  • Online shaming is a form of social punishment that is increasingly common in the digital age.
  • There are two main motivations for online shaming: a desire to do good (a justice motive) and a desire to feel good (a hedonic motive).
  • The feeling of schadenfreude plays an important role in mediating the relationship between justice concerns and online shaming.