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I am a negative person. I hope that you wouldn't guess that about me — not that I'm self-conscious about it. But if you already know that I'm a negative person, then it means I'm something far worse: an infectiously negative person.
Scroll through your favorite social media feed, and keep an eye on your reaction as you look at the most recent posts. It’s possible that you’ve managed to curate your friends list so well that everything that pops up is just right. You’ll find yourself nodding your head in agreement, and feeling uplifted by all the positive vibes out there on the internet.
But more likely, you’re going to find things that are, at the very least, mildly irritating. At worst, they can ruin your entire day. And there are reasons for this: volatile posts play into the goals of social media networks.
The goal of media is to get a reaction. Outrage is a helluva reaction.
Being an Asshole with Friends
Close friends tend to heckle each other a lot. In a way, mocking and teasing amongst friends is almost an affirmation of mutual affection. It’s an indication that both parties are so secure in the relationship that they have no compunctions about stretching it to the limit.
We take something that should be hurtful, and reveal it to be completely inert in the face of our friendship.
There’s no such equivalent for social media communities. To heckle each other is far too open to misinterpretation, whether by the target or by third-parties. We don’t have this intuitive sense of camaraderie. After all, our communications on these platforms are not entirely self-owned. “The medium is the message,” needs revision: The algorithm is the message.
Polarization as Community-Building
With so much of our social interaction happening on these platforms, we still have to meet our social needs for belonging. And yet, by the nature of the medium, this sense of community must come from a place supported by the platform, encouraged even.
Somehow, we’ve managed to gravitate back to this “Us and Them” mechanism for establishing our online relationships. Our digital identities are tied up in our politics, attitudes toward religion, race, gender. We now scroll through our feeds, sorting people into binary categories: those who are “right” on all the issues, and those who are bad.
Which puts us in the position of having to affirm our online identities by sharing story after story, thought after thought, on the latest controversy. Affirming our belonging to the “in” group by alienating the “out”.
As though your opinion on an issue was why we liked you.
As though it was more important than who you are.
I Don’t Want to Have an Opinion
I don’t want this to keep spreading. I don’t want to discard people simply because they have the “wrong” opinion, nor make myself a target worthy of being discarded for sharing my own. And I worry that as we outsource more and more of our social interaction to these networks, we’ll adopt this reductive approach to filtering out those who belong in our lives.
I’m a negative person, but I’m positive that people are good.