‘I’m going to hell for laughing at this’: norms, humour, and the neutralisation of aggression in online communities

Kimberley R. Allison, Kay Bussey, Naomi Sweller

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    14 Citations (Scopus)


    The subreddit r/RoastMe presents an intriguing case of how alternative norms can emerge in subversive online communities, allowing behaviours conventionally condemned as inappropriate to be reframed as acceptable. In this community, users post photos of themselves with the explicit expectation of being mocked or ridiculed by others. This mixed-methods, within-subjects experiment explores the influence of three factors that allow negative comments to be framed as acceptable and appropriate within RoastMe: humour, a mean (but funny) normative tone, and explicit articulation of these norms. 117 participants read, rated and reported their intended responses to humorous and non-humorous comments presented as being from RoastMe (explicitly mean but funny), ToastMe (explicitly positive), and two fictionalised communities where the normative tone was not explicitly defined (the mean but funny RateMe, and the positive DescribeMe). Results indicated clear interaction effects between community tone and norm explicitness, whereby comments from RoastMe were consistently rated and responded to most positively, and separate effects of humour on comment ratings and responses. Individual-level moral disengagement appeared central in allowing participants to excuse negative comments in humorous or permissive contexts. Consistent with benign violation theory, the explicitly negative tone of RoastMe was seen to create a shared understanding that users posting photos would expect and not be harmed by comments, allowing participants to reframe interactions as safe, acceptable and funny.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number152
    Pages (from-to)1-25
    Number of pages25
    JournalACM Proceedings on Human-Computer Interaction
    Issue numberCSCW
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


    • benign violation theory
    • humour
    • moral disengagement
    • online aggression
    • online communities
    • social norms


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