June 29, 2022
Mountaineer News | The Editors
NEWSFLASH: There are people on the Internet that don’t like each other. There are people that don’t like each other in person too, but today’s pitfall of technology has enabled a myriad of people to partake in voicing their opinions in a whole new way (new... being about 20 years at this point).
Go to the Facebook page of any major newspaper and browse the comments of a few posts. It won’t be a pretty sight. It won’t take long to find complaints about how the quality of journalism is going down, that the article is wrong, or that the poster just doesn’t like the person or people being covered.
But a step down from this litany of low-level complaints is something much uglier... a steady stream of outrage.
Emotion is a big driver for online content sharing. People mostly share things online because it triggers an emotional response. The main attribute of an emotional driver is high arousal. To some degree, this explains why we share things we find funny, like Grumpy Cat... or awesome, like an article about an amazing scientific discovery.
Humor and awe are high arousal emotions that are usually positive. But positive emotions do not necessarily travel any better than negativity.
A key emotion on the negative side of the spectrum is... outrage.
WHY OUTRAGE IS EASIER ONLINE Impersonal aspects of social media make expressing outrage all the easier.
Offline, expressions of outrage are often constrained by proximity because people can join the weight of an online ‘movement’ or mob and can easily hide inside an echo chamber of similar enabling voices.
DISCUSSION BECOMES IMPOSSIBLE Among the heavy weight of moral outrage, discussion is nearly impossible. Emotionally-driven and simplified expression drives facts to the point of irrelevance, making debate incredibly circular. It inevitably descends through predictable stages of irritability, distraction, anxiety of the impending reply with a common outcome of... outrage.
This is particularly the case if one side of the argument does not properly understand the subject of the discussion and refuses to acknowledge a different point of view. This descent into a hole of increasing extremity has been coined as Godwin’s law, ‘As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.’
What solutions can be offered in avoiding the whirlpool into outrage?
When there are strong emotion apparent in an online debate, it’s generally better not to get involved. Put your phone down, log off, try and listen to the world around you.
Social media can be useful for relationship-building and connectivity... the occasional, “How are you?” / “What are you up to?” / “Would you like to meet up?”...
But when you try and debate a contentious point online, it will almost certainly go around in circles, wasting your time, attention and emotional energy. You have better things to do.