I am not sure if you are aware of this yet, but Facebook is really good at making us hate each other.
I have lost count of the number of times I have seen a post from a person I admired, or respected, that sent my fingers in a flurry across my phone screen, thumbs first. I’m also a collector. I screenshot to store evidence before metaphorically adding their name to the list of “friends” who are dead to me. Facebook is like that one ex-boyfriend who you don’t even like, but keep calling because it’s either hang out with him, or watch six straight hours of Downton Abbey. You want to stop, but he makes it so easy.
You can imagine what was on my newsfeed. Probably very similar to yours. Everyday people, suddenly becoming politicians, writing memoirs and soliloquies about how much they love Trump, hate Trump, believe in Women’s equality, or…don’t…because apparently that’s a thing? People who I once thought were intelligent, lovely human beings, suddenly became grotesque monsters and I wondered how it took me this many years and an election to notice.
I am sure you experienced something similar. Unless your timeline is filled with people who look, think, and believe just like you do, in which case you are probably very confused by hashtags these days. I saw statuses that truly left me speechless. I couldn’t fathom how people in their right minds could broadcast such polarizing posts. And then I remembered one of the reasons I started logging off social media one day a week: over-use desensitizes you.
A recent study by the University of Michigan found that this generation is 40% less empathetic than the generation 30 years ago. Empathy is the emotion that allows you to identify with the feelings of others. This is kind of a big deal. Remember that theme song from Barney? Apparently this generation doesn’t either.
If you are skeptical at this point, think about the last time you actually went to a friend’s house when hearing that something bad happened to them, or picked up a phone and called, rather than just commenting, “I’m praying for you,” on a timeline, and then hitting them with a sad emoji. Because nothing screams empathy like an emoji. Hail 2017.
Long gone are the days of open conversation, where two people may agree to disagree. Long live the 400 list comment thread, filled with run-on sentences, typos, and empty threats to unfriend.
Tracy Alloway, a professor of psychology at the University of North Florida, explains that some of us are making these controversial posts because they genuinely appreciate open discussion. It should be noted that these people often encourage others to be respectful in their threads, and their own gentle nature sets the tone for the rest of the discussion.
Of course, we are not all out to curate intellectual discussion. I am sure many of us have had a first row seat to the guy with a bat, a hornet’s nest, and remarkable aim. They circle the thread with kerosene, and every now and then, after already imploding your newsfeed, come back to strike one more match. They can’t get enough. And why exactly are they doing these things? Why are they out to start fights? Because apparently, hurting others can actually energize our brain.
Alloway notes that, “Dopamine is a feel good hormone, and it’s released when we’re talking about ourselves. We get the same pleasure rush when we enjoy a really good meal, or have sex.”
These pot stirrers are feigning for your likes and comments. They don’t care if you are coming to their page to brawl, as long as it means you are coming to their page. Talk about me, and suddenly any notification, is a good notification.
Remember, empathy is dying, and demigods are thriving. A hit is a hit, bring on the dopamine.
UCI professor Peter Ditto points out that for most of us, it isn’t hyperlinks and evidence that causes us to form our opinions, but rather social experiences. “The way we know we’re right is when most people around us agree.” This is why your timeline being filled with people just like you, may not be a good thing. If you are wrong, you are never challenged on it. As long as no one is calling you out, Nsync may truly be the best band of all time.
You don’t make decisions based on logic and evidence, this is about social inclusion or exclusion. It is good for all of us to be challenged by holding beliefs that cause us to be excluded from time to time. It makes us question whether or not we are actually correct in our own thinking. Challenging ourselves is how we grow. So make a friend who tells you you are wrong. You will be stronger for it.
Even if you aren’t a fire breathing narcissist, and your innocent post has somehow wreaked havoc on my timeline, those social threats put you into attack mode. It’s kill or be killed on Facebook. Survival of the fittest. Basically the next thing I know I’m screaming at a 70 year old lady in Nova Scotia who I have never met. Or this egg on Twitter has sucked me into their vortex of idiocy because they said they don’t like Taylor Swift, and I am genuinely feeling attacked. Like, who the heck does egg think they are? And why do they not appreciate a tune like, Blank Space?
Facebook fights typically barrel roll, leaving everyone demolished in their path. No one ever wins, and you bring the crazies out of the woodwork. These fights cause anxiety, they make you angry, and they fill your phone storage with screen shots where there could be selfies.
My advice to you, as a person who has studied communications for over 10 years, is to use the sandwich method. When your friend, who you now hate, creates that post about US drone strikes and “boots on the ground”, try hitting them with this:
I have read your thoughts on US drone strikes abroad. I am glad I have had the chance to read your point of view. While I personally have to disagree with your above argument, because (insert data) I am glad that you are on my timeline. You have allowed me to better understand a position I don’t personally ascribe too. Thanks for posting.
And then back away slowly, careful not to step on anything that may detonate, causing you to hate all of Facebook your friends.
But before you completely vanish back into cyber-land, grab that screenshot. Because…well…#petty.