…anger is the emotion that spreads the most easily over social media. Joy came in a distant second. The main difference, said Ryan Martin, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, who studies anger, is that although we tend to share the happiness only of people we are close to, we are willing to join in the rage of strangers. As the study suggests, outrage is lavishly rewarded on social media, whether through supportive comments, retweets or Facebook likes. People prone to Internet outrage are looking for validation, Professor Martin said. “They want to hear that others share it,” he said, “because they feel they’re vindicated and a little less lonely and isolated in their belief.”
Ultimately, Internet outrage is the milquetoast cousin to direct action, a way to protest by tapping and clicking rather than boycotting and marching. It is a noble endeavor to become incensed about a cause and risk arrest or toil without acclamation for one’s deeply held beliefs. Less honorable is joining a digital pile-on as a means of propping up one’s ego, even if it comes in the form of entertaining zings.