Outrage Porn

Online Shaming by Nishant Choksi

Outrage porn is any type of media that is designed to evoke outrage for the purpose generating increased web traffic or online attention. The term was coined in 2009 by political cartoonist and essayist Tim Kreider of ‘The New York Times,’ who said: ‘It sometimes seems as if most of the news consists of outrage porn, selected specifically to pander to our impulses to judge and punish and get us all riled up with righteous indignation.’

Kreider made a distinction between authentic outrage and outrage porn by stating, ‘I’m not saying that all outrage is inherently irrational, that we should all just calm down, that It’s All Good. All is not good…Outrage is healthy to the extent that it causes us to act against injustice.’ Kreider is also noted as saying: ‘It spares us the impotent pain of empathy, and the harder, messier work of understanding.’

The term has also been frequently used by ‘Observer’ media critic, Ryan Holiday. In his 2012 book ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying,’ Holiday described outrage porn as a ‘better term’ for a ‘manufactured online controversy’ to describe the fact that ‘People like getting pissed off almost as much as they like actual porn.’

In general use, outrage porn is a term used to explain media that is created not in order to generate sympathy, but rather to cause anger or outrage among its consumers. It is characterized by insincere rage, umbrage, and indignation without personal accountability or commitment. Media outlets are often incentivized to feign outrage because it specifically triggers many of the most lucrative online behaviors, including leaving comments, repeat pageviews, and social sharing, which the outlets capitalize on. Salon, Gawker, and affiliated websites Valleywag and Jezebel have been noted for abusing the tactic. Traditional media outlets, including television news and talk radio outlets have also been characterized as being engaged in outrage media.

In 2014, Jonah Berger, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study on the spreadability of emotions via social media and concluded that ‘Anger is a high-arousal emotion, which drives people to take action…It makes you feel fired up, which makes you more likely to pass things on.’ Additionally, online audiences may be susceptible to outrage porn in part because of their feeling of powerlessness to managers, politicians, creditors, and celebrities.

In 2014, Tufts University professors Jeffrey Berry and Sarah Sobieraj in their book ‘The Outrage Industry’ characterized outrage media as being a genre as well as a discursive style of media, which attempts to provoke emotions through the use of overgeneralization, sensationalism, and misleading or false information. They also characterized it as being personality-centered, focusing on a particular media professional, and as being reactive, responding to already-reported news rather than breaking stories of its own. In their 2009 study of political media in the United States, they found outrage journalism to be widespread, with 90 percent of all content analyzed including at least one example of it; and that ‘the aggregate audience for outrage media is immense.’

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