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Dublin: 7 °C Sunday 17 November, 2019

This is why people online like to be offended so much

After an online backlash against Stephen Fry, an expert explains online outrage.

ON SUNDAY NIGHT Stephen Fry hosted the BAFTA awards in London.

Dotted in among the expected witticisms from the avuncular host was a joke about Jenny Beavan, the winner of the costume design award, who he said looked like a bag lady.

This was enough to send Twitter into overdrive.

People took aim at Fry for insulting Beavan, and accused him of misogyny.

One tweeter said that the host had “gone down in a lot of people’s estimations” and may even have lost him his status as a national treasure.

Fry responded to this by writing “Christ, I fucking hope so” and subsequently tweeted a picture of himself and Beavan with the caption ‘Jenny Baglady Beavan and Stephen Outrageous Misogynist Swine Fry at the #EEBAFTAs after party’.

stephen fry The picture that Fry tweeted out Source: Twitter

Still – that didn’t stop Twitter users coming out in force against him, with Fry deleting his account.

Speaking to, clinical psychologist and President of the Psychological Society of Ireland Paul D’Alton explains the process of “I tweet therefore I am” comes down to two things.

“Genetically our brains are predisposed to seek out social contact,” D’Alton explains, “We exist and we survive when we have social contact.

That’s a lot of what is going on.

“There’s a thing call negative intimacy. That even when contact is negative and insulting, it is still something people go after.”

This may explain why the Twitter users continued to go after Fry even after he posted the picture with Beavan.

The deeply superficial world of social media doesn’t satisfy us, and sometime we’ll go back for more and more even when it’s insulting.

The second thing is something known as the the the ‘Proximity Effect’, which was developed by psychologist Stanley Milgram in the 1960s.

stephen fry - 1

“He did these obedience experiments,” D’Alton explains, “And what he discovered was that the closer you are to someone, the less likely you are to punish them.”

And, chances are, we can expect more incidents like this in the future.

“This is a huge area of psychology now,” D’Alton went on, “You have a whole generation of natives now who are born into the world of social media. There are huge psychological implications that we don’t quite understand at this point.

I think that people are right to be concerned.

Read: We need to recognise that emotional wellbeing is linked to early childhood experiences

Also: Dreading tomorrow? Here are 23 signs you’re burnt out at work

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