Social media outrage, like the mainstream media and other institutions, offers an additional mechanism for accountability.
Social media platforms seize control of the narrative from the political elite and the heads of national media outlets. Social media outrage, therefore, cannot be controlled by governments, making it the ideal tool to hold them to account.
Recently, the government in Brunei introduced a law that would punish gay sex with stoning. Keyboard warriors from across the globe immediately took to social media to condemn the decision and before long the hashtag #BoycottBrunei had gained traction. The incident illustrates how social media outrage can hold governments to account for unjust policies that run roughshod over human rights and civil freedoms and punish political agents that offend the public sense of morality. It isn't just governments that can be held to account on social media. It can also function as a corrective or punitive mechanism for those who have escaped civil or legal justice. For example, after fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, Florida's George Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder charges and manslaughter, prompting social media outrage .
Social media outrage that is directed towards government and political figures is rarely constructive. For every incident of outrage about a policy that breaches human rights, there are 1,000 trivial incidents that do political damage to politicians for no reason. We only have to look at the social media outrage surrounding Labour leader Ed Milliband eating a bacon sandwich to see how this outrage is most often deployed. Social media outrage can derail a politician's career for eating a bacon sandwich, eating fried chicken with a fork, or for Tweeting their own name by mistake. It is hard to see how this has improved society and politics.
[P1] Social media outraged is often used to hold politicians to account. [P2] This extra mechanism of accountability is of benefit to society.
[Rejectin P1] Social media outrage is more often used to derail a politician's career for arbitrary reasons. [Rejecting P2] As a result, it does far more harm than good to the political narrative and conversation.