Psychology

Online moral rhetoric and violent protests

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Science  06 Jul 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6397, pp. 39-40
DOI: 10.1126/science.361.6397.39-c

Police officers and demonstrators face off during the 2015 Baltimore protests.

PHOTO: CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES

Peaceful protests sometimes turn violent. To find out why, Mooijman et al. analyzed 18 million tweets sent during the 2015 Baltimore protests related to the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. They found that tweets expressing moral rhetoric predicted daily violence and police arrests in the hours after being sent. These data did not explore specific content or level of moral agreement in social networks. Follow-up vignette experiments and attitude surveys found that people endorse violent protest when they see an issue in moral terms and perceive that everyone agrees with them. These data have implications for understanding how online echo chambers may lead to violence and how to predict, and possibly prevent, the eruption of violence in social groups.

Nat. Hum. Behav. 2, 389 (2018).

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