Moralization in social networks and the emergence of violence during protests

Marlon Mooijman, Joe Hoover, Ying Lin, Heng Ji, Morteza Dehghani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In recent years, protesters in the United States have clashed violently with police and counter-protesters on numerous occasions 1-3 . Despite widespread media attention, little scientific research has been devoted to understanding this rise in the number of violent protests. We propose that this phenomenon can be understood as a function of an individual's moralization of a cause and the degree to which they believe others in their social network moralize that cause. Using data from the 2015 Baltimore protests, we show that not only did the degree of moral rhetoric used on social media increase on days with violent protests but also that the hourly frequency of morally relevant tweets predicted the future counts of arrest during protests, suggesting an association between moralization and protest violence. To better understand the structure of this association, we ran a series of controlled behavioural experiments demonstrating that people are more likely to endorse a violent protest for a given issue when they moralize the issue; however, this effect is moderated by the degree to which people believe others share their values. We discuss how online social networks may contribute to inflations of protest violence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)389-396
Number of pages8
JournalNature human behaviour
Volume2
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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