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Gendered Morality and Backlash Effects in Online Discussions: An Experimental Study on How Users Respond to Hate Speech Comments Against Women and Sexual Minorities

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Hate speech in online users’ comments is often targeted toward underprivileged social groups such as immigrants, sexual minorities, and women. Besides the general severity of such offenses, social media users’ personal characteristics influence the evaluation of hate comments. We focus on the flagging of hate comments aimed toward women and sexual minorities (i.e., the intention to report such comments as inappropriate to a moderator or platform provider of an online discussion forum). We investigate the influence of user’s morality on the intention to flag of such comments. Relying on social role and backlash theory, we scrutinize in how far gender plays a role in flagging intention and in how far people perceive hate comments by women as an act of double deviance. Therefore, we conducted a 2 × 2 online experiment with 457 participants (51% female) recruited through political interest groups and a German news magazine site on Facebook. Results indicate that moral judgments are to some extent gendered as women are more concerned about fairness and avoiding harm to others than men are. Deviant and agentic online behavior by women is judged more strictly than such behavior by men. Results implicate that moderators of online discussions and platform providers should be sensitive to how gender stereotypes influence online discussions.

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Correspondence to Claudia Wilhelm.

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We have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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All procedures performed in this study involving human participants followed the procedural requirements for ethical research with human subjects of the University of Erfurt. Research procedures were in accordance with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Wilhelm, C., Joeckel, S. Gendered Morality and Backlash Effects in Online Discussions: An Experimental Study on How Users Respond to Hate Speech Comments Against Women and Sexual Minorities. Sex Roles 80, 381–392 (2019).

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