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MSM outrage-shaming: What’s it all about?

In Alison Parkes, Democracy, Federal Election, Fifth Estate, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, Journalism, Misogyny on May 9, 2013 at 10:46 AM

By Alison Parkes

May 8, 2013

This piece is written in response to these three articles which have appeared within the past couple of weeks

1)  Hooked on outrage in the Twitter wars  by Jacqueline Maley, 20 April Fairfax

2)  The left takes a turn for the ugly as power slips through Labor’s grasp by Chris Johnson, 28 April Fairfax

3)  Feminist backs Abbott on ‘calibre’ comment  by  Heath Aston and Jonathan Swan, 7 May Fairfax

What these three articles share in common is a criticism of how people, particularly those on the Left, use Twitter to express outrage at comments made by Tony Abbott, Alan Jones, and the politician Dennis Jensen. These three articles use outrage-shaming to mock the reaction of the Left to insensitive and offensive comments from the Right.

Outrage-shaming occurs when people in mainstream media (MSM) use it as a pulpit to shame people on Twitter over their outrage or reactions to a event. Recent articles based on outrage-shaming have targeted the Left, women and the working class, groups that have traditionally been shamed into silence for breaching the polite rules of society.

Too loud, too much, too emotional, too public.

If you don’t like something Tony Abbott said, and take to Twitter to express your opinion, people who disagree with you will dismiss this as inappropriate outrage. This can be also called faux-outrage or confected-outrage by those who think the reaction has gone too far.

Say too much and MSM journalists will write a newspaper column about you. Keep your emotions under control, don’t react, stay quiet, don’t get angry, say nothing – most importantly, do not get outraged. The MSM will decide the narrative and context and the circumstances in which you will be outraged.

This outrage as a means of control is not new. For centuries moral panics have come from the elites – the wealthy, the law, the churches, the men – from the top down, and have covered everything from witches who could wither crops with just a glance and Muslim terrorists to satanic heavy metal or the evils of jazz or rap music, unemployed single mothers on welfare to people in boats. Moral panics have been used to control behaviour, kids and their music, widowed women who owned property, people who prayed to a different God or had no God. Groups are held up as an example of how not to live, to shame those who have transgressed the boundaries, into repenting. Shaming also serves as a warning of what might happen if you, too, think about breaking the rules. The latest moral panic in MSM is ‘The Left are using Twitter to express outrage.

Feminist Eva Cox described the Twitter reaction to Tony Abbott’s “women of calibre” comment, from ordinary users as well as Penny Wong and Tanya Plibersek, as “an overreaction“. Sorry Twitter, you may react, just don’t over-react.

Of course you are entitled to free speech, be careful how you use it.

As Maley wrote in  Hooked on outrage in the Twitter wars:

Freedom of speech is one thing, but at a certain point in political debate you have to turn down the volume of the extreme voices at the edge of the debate, so you can have a reasoned one in the middle. You have to filter out the outrage and, even harder, not allow yourself to get outraged by the outrageous. –

So what if people take to their own Twitter accounts to express outrage?

People don’t always tweet expecting their conversations will be evaluated by mainstream journalists for levels of appropriate outrage.

And tweets that on the surface may appear to be an over-reaction aren’t always actually about outrage. Tweets can be used for humour, venting, sharing personal and painful experience and connecting with others. How different is this from the salons and cafes where people meet and talk, the turn of the century French Bohemian cafes or Dorothy Parker of the Algonquin Round Table and her acid-tongue put downs repeated to this day. Or the Pubs, the clubs and backyard barbecues and Sydney University Liberal Club president’s dinners.

Of course you are entitled to free speech, just not so outrageously public. Read the rest of this entry »

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