Since the election of President Donald Trump, outrage culture has come to the forefront. This was never an isolated phenomenon, but this election cycle has caused it to become visible on national headlines.
Social media has been a major catalyst in creating outrage culture. What was a fleeting story in a newspaper in the past is now endlessly repeated on social media, often achieving some kind of sensationalist response. This is an issue that affects both the left and the right, but is far more prevalent on the left.
Outrage culture feeds on the notion that someone may disagree with the “right” opinion. Boycotts and defamation ensue when disagreement presents itself. Affected individuals lose their reputations and often their livelihoods just for disagreeing with others.
The public saw outrage culture with Memories Pizza in Indiana, which was nearly forced out of business after refusing to cater same sex weddings. Recently, the public saw this with YouTube content creator PewDiePie. The most popular person on the internet is being dropped by sponsors and had his YouTube Red show cancelled by Google for sentiments he does not even hold.
No one seems to be safe from the accusation of being a neo-Nazi, even if that person happens to be the most popular comedian on YouTube.
Back in 2014, a team from the European Space Agency successfully landed the first spacecraft on a comet. One of the team leaders, Matt Taylor, wore a Hawaiian-style shirt with scantily-clad women purchased for him by his female colleague. Suddenly, none of the accomplishments of the team mattered.
The public had decided that his shirt was sexist and that his reputation must be ruined by an internet mob rabid with rage. Days later, he apologized in tears. A scientist performed one of the biggest scientific feats of the decade and he was reduced to tears.
This is the unfortunate consequence of outrage culture. Neither true intentions nor true beliefs matter. There is no scale that weighs the quality of a person. All it takes is one decision, one opinion that someone else disagrees with, and that individual will be dehumanized and forced into humiliation.
Just over a week ago, the New York University College Republicans invited Gavin McInnes, commentator and co-founder of Vice, to speak at an event. As a result, this event sparked a massive protest. McInnes was accused of being a racist, a misogynist and even a neo-Nazi.
While walking through the front door, he was assaulted and pepper sprayed by organizers. The worst part of this ordeal is that these protestors thought it was morally right to assault McInnes because of his beliefs, even though the accusations were not even true.
Sensationalism is a common tactic deployed by followers of outrage culture. Any statements will be mischaracterized in order to fit the agenda of that person’s detractors. This is an attempt to dehumanize the opposition—not only to discredit their positions, but to justify all acts of retaliation against them, including acts of violence.
This mindset creates the “punch the Nazi” mentality, in which Trump supporters are being sucker punched in the streets during protests. Outrage culture tells the public that violence is acceptable if it is committed toward a “decent” purpose. This dehumanization to justify violence has no place in reasonable public discourse.
Reporters such as Lauren Southern should not be assaulted outside inaugural balls just because they supported the “wrong candidate.” Commentators such as Milo Yiannopoulos should not be banned from social media platforms for having the wrong opinion. These are just the celebrity cases; such behavior has become an epidemic.
This is not the first time the administration has changed and it certainly will not be the last. Even if a particular stance is unreasonable, the only effective response to irrationality is reason. Responding to irrational behavior with more irrational behavior and violence only further drags the country into an authoritarian battleground. This results in faux hysteria shaping the public discourse. This is when fake news becomes real news with real effects and real world consequences.
Eric is a Public Affairs student who is active in organizations including the Baruch College Republicans and the Honors Student Council. Outside of college, he recently founded a nonprofit, Doxa, which aims to increase “debate, discourse and citizenship.”