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Friday, August 4, 2023

Social Media and Morality

Van Bavel, J. J., Robertson, C. et al. (2023, June 6).


Nearly five billion people around the world now use social media, and this number continues to grow. One of the primary goals of social media platforms is to capture and monetize human attention. One means by which individuals and groups can capture attention and drive engagement on these platforms is by sharing morally and emotionally evocative content. We review a growing body of research on the interrelationship of social media and morality–as well the consequences for individuals and society. Moral content often goes “viral” on social media, and social media makes moral behavior (such as punishment) less costly. Thus, social media often acts as an accelerant for existing moral dynamics – amplifying outrage, status seeking, and intergroup conflict, while also potentially amplifying more constructive facets of morality, such as social support, pro-sociality, and collective action. We discuss trends, heated debates, and future directions in this emerging literature.

From Discussions and Future Directions

Addressing the interplay between social media and morality 

There is a growing recognition among scholars and the public that social media has deleterious consequences for society and there is a growing appetite for greater transparency and some form of regulation of social media platforms (Rathje et al., 2023). To address the adverse consequences of social media, solutions at the system level are necessary (e.g., Chater & Loewenstein, 2022), but individual- or group-level solutions may be useful for creating behavioral change before system-level change is in place and for increasing public support for system-level solutions (Koppel et. al., 2023). In the following section, we discuss a range of solutions that address the adverse consequences of the interplay between social media and morality.

Regulation is one of the most heavily debated ways of mitigating the adverse features of social media. Regulating social media can be done both on platforms as well at the national or cross-national level, but always involves discussions about who should decide what should be allowed on which platforms (Kaye, 2019). Currently, there is relatively little editorial oversight with the content even on mainstream platforms, yet the connotations with censorship makes regulation inherently controversial. For instance, Americans believe that social media companies censor political viewpoints (Vogels et al., 2020) and believe it is hard to regulate social media because people cannot agree upon what should and should not be removed (PewResearch Center, 2019). Moreover, authoritarian states can suppress dissent through the regulation of speech on social media.

In general, people on the political left are supportive of regulating social media platforms (Kozyreva, 2023; Rasmussen, 2022), reflecting liberals’ general tendency to more supportive, and conservatives' tendency to more opposing, of regulatory policies (e.g. Grossman, 2015). In the context of content on social media, one explanation is that left-leaning people infer more harm from aggressive behaviors. In other words, they may perceive immoral behaviors on social media as more harmful for the victim, which in turn justifies regulation (Graham 2009; Crawford 2017; Walter 2019; Boch 2020). There are conflicting results, however, on whether people oppose regulating hate speech (Bilewicz et. al. 2017; Rasmussen 2023a) because they use hate to derogate minority and oppressed groups (Sidanius, Pratto, and Bobo 1996; Federico and Sidanius, 2002) or because of principled political preferences deriving from conservatism values (Grossman 2016; Grossman 2015; Sniderman & Carmines, 1997; Sniderman & Piazza, 1993; Sniderman, Piazza, Tetlock, & Kendrick, 1991). While sensitivity to harm contributes to making people on the political left more supportive of regulating social media, it is contested whether opposition from the political right derives from group-based dominance or principled opposition.

Click the link above to get to the research.

Here is a summary from me:
  • Social media can influence our moral judgments. Studies have shown that people are more likely to make moral judgments that align with the views of their social media friends and the content they consume on social media. For example, one study found that people who were exposed to pro-environmental content on social media were more likely to make moral judgments that favored environmental protection.
  • Social media can lead to moral disengagement. Moral disengagement is a psychological process that allows people to justify harmful or unethical behavior. Studies have shown that social media can contribute to moral disengagement by making it easier for people to distance themselves from the consequences of their actions. For example, one study found that people who were exposed to violent content on social media were more likely to engage in moral disengagement.
  • Social media can promote prosocial behavior. Prosocial behavior is behavior that is helpful or beneficial to others. Studies have shown that social media can promote prosocial behavior by connecting people with others who share their values and by providing opportunities for people to help others. For example, one study found that people who used social media to connect with others were more likely to volunteer their time to help others.
  • Social media can be used to spread misinformation and hate speech. Misinformation is false or misleading information that is spread intentionally or unintentionally. Hate speech is speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, or sexual orientation. Social media platforms have been used to spread misinformation and hate speech, which can have a negative impact on society.
Overall, the research on social media and morality suggests that social media can have both positive and negative effects on our moral judgments and behavior. It is important to be aware of the potential risks and benefits of social media and to use it in a way that promotes positive moral values.