What is Outrage Porn?

If you participate in social media, you’ve seen it. If you watch the news on TV or online, you’ve seen it. If you’ve been subscribed to political campaign email lists or texts, you’ve seen it.

It’s outrage porn, sometimes also referred to as angertainment, messaging that’s explicitly designed to produce outrage, to cause us to become outraged, especially morally outraged.

In Political Campaigns

Here we see two examples of real political campaign emails. The first is a GOP ad that says:

We need STRONG Republican leadership in office to stop Biden, Pelosi, and the Radical Left from enacting their Socialist agenda that would threaten the Freedoms that we hold so dear.

The second is an ad from President Biden that says:

America is at an inflection point. An inflection point where we must choose between moving forward or backward.

MAGA Republicans have made their choice. They promote authoritarian leaders and fan the flames of political violence — they don’t want to keep our republic, they aim to capture it.

In both cases, these emails are intended to invoke outrage and stoke fears, to get you so mad at the other side, that you might open your wallet and send money.

In the News

Fox News: Fetterman, Obama stump for candidate who previously supported plans to 'abolish' ICE and 'Defund the police'
Fox News
MSNBC: On litter box myth, GOP’s Don Bolduc pushes post-truth approach
MSNBC

Here we have a couple of examples from the news. The first is from Fox News and the second is from MSNBC.

Tim Kreider was the first to use the term “outrage porn” in a New York Times article in July 2009, writing:

“It sometimes seems as if most of the news consists of outrage porn, selected specifically to pander to our impulses to judge and punish and get us all riled up with righteous indignation”

I even like the Urban Dictionary definition:

“Memes, news articles, TV segments, email forwards, or other forms of media that are designed to invoke outrage. This is especially true for political-related topics. Viewers of outrage porn often become addicted and spend many hours per day trying to seek new outrage highs.”

It applies regardless of where you lie on the political spectrum or what party affiliations you may have. Whether democrat or republican, whether conservative, liberal, or moderate, we’re all being fed a steady diet of signals that are designed to evoke outrage. As Tim Kreider puts it:

“Outrage is like a lot of other things that feel good but over time devour us from the inside out. And it’s even more insidious than most vices because we don’t even consciously acknowledge that it’s a pleasure.”

Research shows that the stimulating nature of outrage porn
and the emotions produced leave our brains in high arousal states encouraging us to react. And that’s exactly what the purveyors of outrage porn want.

I like the term because it captures the outrage side, this type of content that is trying to elicit strong emotional reactions, and the porn part, or our addiction to it, how we like it because it feeds certain psychological desires, especially our sense of moral superiority.