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Moralized language causes more hateful responses

A new study looked into the phenomenon of moralized language on social media. Broadly defined, content is moralized if it references ideas, objects, or events construed in terms of the good of a unit larger than the individual (e.g., society). Check this image for an example. The researchers analyzed almost 700.000 tweets, authored by societal leaders across three domains (politics, news media, and activism), and over 35 million replies. 

The results show that tweets with moralized language consistently lead to higher instances of hate speech in the replies. On average, each additional moral word was associated with between 10.76% and 16.48% higher odds of receiving hate speech. Likewise, each additional moral-emotional word increased the odds of receiving hate speech by between 9.35 and 20.63%. 

Tweets with moralized language might provoke more hate speech as a reaction because they present a specific moral viewpoint as absolute or universal, which can trigger strong emotions and opinions in others. When people feel that their values or beliefs are being challenged or attacked, they may react with defensiveness or aggression, including hate speech. Additionally, moralized language can create an “us vs. them” dynamic, further dividing people and increasing the likelihood of conflict, including hate speech.