Why is there so much negativity on the internet17 May 2021 | 6 minutes to read
It often feels like everyone online is always complaining, antagonizing, or egging on each other. It may only be anecdotal evidence, but it seems that negativity “travels” better than positivity. But why?
There are a few reasons I can think of off the top of my head:
- People get some sort of enjoyment out of it
- Sense of justice; being served?
- Therapeutic to “let it out”
Social media / digital communication in general give people a wider sphere of influence compared to their social influence person to person. Social media is also intentionally designed to get people to stay as long as possible. While it may not be the sole or even primary reason people use a platform, but seems that outrage is at ;last a factor in getting people to come back.
Does social media create toxicity in people or does it just make it more accessible? Maybe people are normally this toxic in their head, but are rarely in situations where it would be socially acceptable to voice those views.
Maybe toxicity just exists, and produces greater interaction than positive news. If people disagree with something, they’re more likely to speak out than if it is something they agree with. Like the old internet adage, if you want the answer to a question, ask the wrong question. People seem to be more likely to react negatively than positively to a post.
People also like to complain. A good example is the Hackernews posts described on ngate.com. Each week, an article is posted that takes the top hacker news post of each day and provides a commentary of the post and hacker news comments in response. Many of them boil down to “Person complains about something, this reminds hacker news of similar things to complain about”. People like to complain because those complaints are usually bottled up inside. While they may voice those complaints to those around them, complaining in a conversation between two people is different than complaining on social media. There’s a lot less context required, so people can post “Ugh they’re just too much” and feel listened to, even though a majority of readers don’t know the context of why they feel that way.
In in-person social circles, there are usually much fewer people than social media circles. Given a random day, the chance that everyone in a social circle is having a bad day is small. People will have random smattering of emotions towards the day, some positive some negative.
On social media the ratio of positive to negative may be the same as in a social circle, but the amount of each is greater (e.g. It’s still say a 60/40 positive/neg split, but 60% social media »»> 60% social circle).
Because there’s so many people, there’s less individual interaction and more interaction with groups of people. Thoughts and opinions put forth by individuals are prescribed to groups of people. It wasn’t Joe Amerigo that posted that hateful rhetoric, it was a “trump fanatic”. People lose sight of the person behind the words, instead assigning the thoughts and feelings of a post to themselves if they agree with it and a faceless “other” if they don’t. To be able to read, understand, and react to the amount of social media posts, people create a categorical structure to group types of posts under, so they have a way to easily get through posts without needing to put in a lot of thought. With the size and scale of social media, maybe people also feel much less responsible for the things they post, because there’s always someone else posting worse things that they are morally superior to.
Another factor may be the medium the ideas are shared by. To myself, there difference in importance between the spoken word and the digital word. Digital words seem to have less weight than those written physically or spoken. There is very little difference between individual posts, only the words change. The formatting, ui and interface are always the same, which makes each posts less distinct and able to blend in to the previous and next posts in the infinite scroll that is social media.
Maybe subconsciously base the value of words on the effort needed to obtain and read them. and the amount of similar sets of words there are? If it’s easy to obtain and read, the there’s less value placed on it This is of course completely ignoring what is actually written. The words themselves have vale, but that is only known to the reader during/after they read it.
Social media is also geared towards users sharing many, short posts that can easily be digested and shared. As a sort of “gamification”, users place a lot of value on the reactions others make on there posts (likes, shares, reactions, upvotes). These popularity points are paramount to a user, and often supplant the need for honesty or good faith arguments. You get more points catering to peoples gut reactions to issues, instead of a more tedious post debating the finer points of an issue.
Maybe one solution could be more rules! Create structured platform that heavily structures how people are able to interact. Create set types of posts and responses, to influence how people interact with the site and each other.
One type might force all responses to be a minimum length or word count or some measure. Would this force people to make more thought out responses? Maybe it would just result in longer, more detailed tirades (if it was used like twitter).
Another type of rule could influence how people respond to each other. When writing a response, make the ability to quote the parent much easier or forced. I think this would result in people creating responses that interact with the
On top of these rules, one could be added similar to the 4chan board r9k, where no post can be repeated. If a users posts something that was previously posted, the get banned for an amount of time, with more infractions resulting in greater time. This definitely forces people to consider what they’re writing a little more, but can also be somewhat circumvented by adding typos or replacing/tacking on special unicode characters.
I think rules can help influence the type and quality of interactions on a social network but at the end of the day, the quality of users participating are what really controls the interactions. For there to be less negativity, people need to make a conscious choice to promote positivity instead of continuing to circulate less positive content.