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Is social media outrage a positive force in society? Show more Show less

The age-old maxim goes, "if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention". This has never been more applicable. Nothing drives social media engagement like outrage and social media platforms have embraced models designed to inflame and spark anger. The success of positive social and political movements like #MeToo and the Arab Spring largely stem from social media outrage but is it a positive societal force, or a dangerous sociological weapon that can destroy as fast as it creates?

Social media outrage is bad Show more Show less

Social media outrage can ruin innocent people's lives, limit free speech, fuel polarisation and aid the dissemination of misinformation.
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The merging of domains

Social media outrages cause all the domains of a person's existence to blend into one.
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Context

Imagine a scene where you are sitting in traffic and the driver of the car in front of you throws a piece of litter out of the window. You become incensed. You follow the man to the office in which he works and immediately inform his boss of his actions, who shares your anger and dismisses him from his job. You then follow the driver home, telling all the bystanders you pass on the way about his transgression, many of which do not even know the many. When he arrives home you tell his family. Then head to businesses around the local area and inform his friends.[1]

The Argument

Many would argue that you had no right to do this. But that is precisely what social media outrage is. It transcends worlds and thrusts an individual into the national (and sometimes international) spotlight, informing all of their friends, colleagues and family of their beliefs on a certain subject. It robs an individual of their right to exist in separate domains. Their work life becomes irreversibly linked to their online life, their personal life and their political life. We should be free to keep our personal lives away from our professional lives. Our employer does not need to know that you like to spend your free time telling dirty jokes at an open mic night, or that you like to hang out with punk rockers at the weekend. Social media outrage robs us of that right. This happened to Stan McCullars, an employee with Florida’s Seminole County clerk's office in 2017. McCullars, responding to Florida's first black chief prosecutor's decision not to seek the death penalty for an accused murderer, suggested that she should be "tarred and feathered, if not hung from a tree."[2] The comments quickly drew the attention of the national media. McCullars was dismissed from his job over the comments and is struggling to find alternative employment. He believes that the statements he made as a private citizen should not have had an impact on his professional life. The fact that social media outrage is contributing to the collapse of our domains of existence makes it a negative force in society.

Counter arguments

This is not necessarily a bad thing. As an employer, you want to employ workers that share your company values. In the example of Stan McCullars, he expressed views that went against the values of the County clerk's office. He was not only right to be let go, but it was beneficial to the clerk's office to be made aware of these beliefs. Consider, for example, someone in charge of enforcing equal opportunity laws in their professional life, harbours racists beliefs. In their personal life, they frequently express these beliefs both verbally and in their actions. It is in society's best interest to expose these people for living double lives so that someone better suited to the job can be found. Social media can act as that exposing force, as it did in the case of Stan McCullars. In this way, social media outrage that shines a spotlight on individuals that transgress, is a positive force in society.

Framing

Premises

[P1] We have the right to keep our domains of existence separate (e.g. work life separate from personal life) [P2] Social media outrage robs us of that right. [P3] Therefore, it is detrimental to civil society.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] We do not have that right.

Proponents

Further Reading

References

  1. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/01/outrage/579553/
  2. https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/commentary/ct-perspec-free-speech-social-media-0921-story.html

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This page was last edited on Thursday, 13 Jun 2019 at 16:58 UTC