How destructive can social media be

Anita Rösch

When attitude becomes radical

Expressing justified indignation and calling for action in response to perceived injustice is an indispensable part of democracy. However, accelerated by spreading it via social media, among other things, the political discussion culture threatens to be undermined by hate speech and escalation of violence. Based on the essays by Stéphane Hessels, the teaching unit illuminates the relationship between outrage and morality, resistance and tolerance and their effects on our society.

Outrage is the catchphrase in the current political discourse and in the description of the situation in contemporary German society. The journalist Jakob Augstein titled his documentary, released in 2019, with the title The Indignant Republic1. The media scientist Bernhard Pörksen characterizes the situation of the current society as "transition from media democracy to indignation democracy" 2.
What initially seems positive - more people can participate in current debates in an easily accessible way, actually the epitome of democracy - often slips into destructiveness and hatred. Why? To this end, we should first look at the origins of the concept of indignation.
Outrage as a moral feeling and a call to action
In 2010 the 93-year-old Stéphane Hessel published his essay Outrage! 3 In this short text, Hessel sums up the quintessence of his political life. As a member of the Resistance, Hessel was captured in 1944, deported to Buchenwald and sentenced to death. He survived only by luck. After the end of the Second World War he worked for the UN and took part in meetings of the Human Rights Commission. He was particularly committed to development aid, democracy and human rights throughout his life. In his essay, Hessel complains about today's violations of human rights, the growing gap between rich and poor and the destruction of our planet and calls for resistance.
What does Hessel mean by indignation? For him, indignation means recognizing grievances and getting involved in eliminating them. In a second booklet entitled Engagieren! 4 he elaborates on this. Only those who are outraged receive an impetus to act, i.e., outrage and action for the purpose of change and improvement are inseparable for Hessel. Outrage cannot be imagined without responsibility.
“Without me” is the worst thing you can do to yourself and the world. The “without me” types have lost one of the absolutely constitutive characteristics of human beings: the ability to be indignant and thus to be committed. ”5“ Make sure you understand what bothers you and what is outrageous, and then try to find out what you can actually do about it . "6
Hessel's understanding of indignation coincides with a philosophical concept of indignation. Outrage is a moral feeling, the reaction to injustice felt towards oneself or others. Outrage always arises when norms are violated, the observance of which one considers important.7 For the outraged, it is not about subjective feelings, but about fundamental and serious norm violations. The elimination of the norm violations is often assigned to an instance. So the child who is outraged by the meanness of another child hopes that adults will resolve the situation. Adults try to bring about change through political engagement or their voting behavior. What has changed about that?
An aggressively moralized culture of debate with the aim of silencing others has spread.
The indignant (digital) society
The internet could be a place of grassroots democracy because everyone can participate in an easily accessible way. Groups get a voice here that previously had no access to the public. Initiatives network and focus on their interests ...