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This week, Alice Marwick published a new piece in Social Media & Society. “Morally Motivated Networked Harassment as Normative Reinforcement” explores how communities band together to reinforce their shared moral norms by harassing perceived violations of those norms.

She sums it up in a Twitter thread:

The model: A member of one community/social network (far-right, fat activists, a fandom) accuses a “target” of violating that network’s moral norms (“the accusation”). This triggers moral outrage & justifies harassment by framing the target as deserving it.”

She finds that networked, coordinated harassment is done by all kinds of communities, from partisan political groups to fandoms. Though the origins of harassment are not necessarily identity-based, the resulting attacks use race, gender, sexuality, religion, and other attributes as vectors, making it more likely that people with marginalized identities will be harassed in ways that are intersectional/more harmful for individuals with multiple marginalized identities.

A diagram showing an amplifier making an accusation, with a networked audience responding by crossing out of their own identity group to harass a target

The key point is that while harrassers draw from identity-based stereotypes in their attacks, they understand their actions as morally justified and based in the target’s actions, rather than their identity. Alice offers two examples, “I’m not against Anita Sarkeesian because I’m a misogynist/anti-feminist, but because she’s a scammer/liar,” and “I’m not against the 1619 project/Nikole Hannah Jones b/c I’m racist/my white ID is threatened but because she’s a liar who hates white people and white children.”

Read the full paper (it’s open access!)

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