Peak Outrage

There seems to always be something trending on social media that we are all being outraged by. This can be politics, social issues, celebrities, sports or anything that gathers enough momentum to evoke outrage in social media users. What's interesting is that once one (outrage) trend fizzles out, another one starts.

Never a dull day.

So much so that perhaps Twitter should change from asking "What's happening?" before you tweet to "What are you outraged by today?". As communities have we always been like this and it's just that we now have social media tools that allow us to transmit our outrage to more people? Or, do social media platforms also contribute to this?

I'd like to think it's a bit of both.

The issues (although some are frivolous and reaching, like a Twitter user who was outraged by the staff of a South African pizza company doing community service) are generally valid and worthy of outrage. On the other hand, it doesn't take a data scientist to pick up that the same patterns around issues people are being outraged by keep repeating themselves (e.g. women abuse, racism, crime etc.) which also begs the question: is our energy wasted on social media outrage? Also, I think social media platforms also, given their features, encourage this constant outrage.

Firstly, the idea that you can transmit a quick message (text, image, video) to people globally without any delay from you publishing and them receiving it, AND get immediate feedback encourages, well, publishing short and quick and in some cases, without much thought.

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Florent Crivello, Software Engineer at Uber, articulated it succinctly and better than I can (although discussing something unrelated) when he tweeted that "absence of latency allows us to have knee-jerk reactions on everything…". The same absence of latency, which allows outrage to go viral, allows for the transmission of information (including false/fake news) to reach people faster. This, somehow incentivizes quick transmission vs "let me research or think before I transmit".

Secondly, features like ReTweets (RTs), Likes etc. also seem to incentivize the tweet-now-think-later behavior because behaviourally, some have found, they make us feel good (i.e. the more RTs you have, the better you feel about yourself) and feed our need for validation. I also need to add, for some odd reason I am still trying to process (I know, I'm slow. I'm a 486 CPU among i7 processors in 2017. Eventually, I will process this and understand), RTs have also become currency given the "How many RTs for you to give me x" trend.

Lastly, app notifications. Pavlov would be proud of whoever came up with specifically social media app notifications. Notifications seem to perform conditioning at a subconscious level, the same way Pavlov ran experiments on his dogs, to a point where after a while, a new smartphone user will voluntarily check social media apps even though there are no notifications. This, in my opinion, also contributes to the outrage. In that you want to say something on social media, anything, because in part, we've become conditioned to using the apps even when not necessary. This, in some cases, leads to the somewhat constant outrage on social media.

Perhaps I am wrong.

What are your thoughts?

This article first appeared on 11 September 2017 in the iAfrikan Weekly Digest Newsletter, a Pan Afrikan weekly digest of the most important stories of the week which includes insights and analysis on the most topical story of the week. Subscribe here to the weekly digest and receive it every Monday morning at 06h00 Central African Time.

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