When #BoycottStarWarsVII began trending on Twitter in October, Lord Humungus (@DarklyEnlighten, before the account was suspended) was smiling in some deep pocket of the internet. Humungus created #BoycottStarWarsVII to bemoan the number of nonwhite actors with roles in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the latest installment of the franchise. People had every right to be upset over this racist hashtag, especially when it began trending. But it wasn’t really what Humungus said or did that caused #BoycottStarWarsVII to start trending; instead, everyone who voiced their disagreement with him by loudly repeating and retweeting his argument was to blame.
“Reverse outrage” is the righteous internet backlash against an initial statement or display of outrage — think a boycott or a call to action — however founded or unfounded it may be. It works like a tsunami, starting with an initial shock that’s followed by quiet as the bluster and bombast retreats like a low tide, then returns in a megaton surge, often aided by the media. The irony is that in the rush to prove one’s moral superiority by speaking out against some racist, sexist, or otherwise hurtful sentiment (whether it’s a hashtag or a viral video about a coffee cup), the sentiment is frequently amplified on a scale that wouldn’t have been possible had people not taken the bait.
Social media has given us an avenue to prove our worthiness. And we’ve turned it into an express lane.