It’s been confounding me for months: why does social media get us into such a frenzy? There are so many reasons, and I’ve figured out the more obvious ones: baiters; fake information; people who get off on horror or mischief; serial shamers (and their necessary dance-partners, serial reactors) and just plain trolls.
But the genuinely caring can spark riots with a few well-intentioned posts, and that’s harder to understand. Then I got it, in one moment (guess who feels stupid?). Here’s what I understand:
It all comes down to audience, the life-blood of any online publication or website.
A platform like Facebook is simple: my audience is made up of my friends, family and co-workers. Unless I’m a Kardashian, there’s every chance that I’m not being followed by a huge crowd of strangers.
So, here’s a crowd of people I know, like and even love, and this is where it gets troublesome. I can post an incisive piece sharp enough to eviscerate any, say, misogynist wandering over my time-line, but how many misogynists do I really know?
For argument’s sake, maybe I know one or two closet misogynists, but that leaves the other men and women on my timeline wondering who the post is intended for. The world? Is the world really reading my timeline?
There’s a good chance that my friends don’t know too many misogynists either, so if they share my post, it has their friends wondering.
Okay, you say – it can do some good. Sure, if I post about it now and then. But what happens if my every second post is about misogyny? Eventually my followers are going to want to know what’s going on, or they’re going to feel uneasy. Especially since they know that I’d tackle any misogynist I knew in person, rather than via a vaguely-aimed open missive.
Eventually someone is going to take it personally – after all, this is a closed party and everyone present has been invited. So if my missives aren’t aimed at them, who are they aimed at?
Platforms like Twitter are more useful for launching behavioural interventions on random strangers and tolerated acquaintances: followers/followees are cut from a wider sweep and may include total strangers and people I don’t agree with at all. Not that I’m deeply into behavioural interventions – I far prefer intense debate and let the behaviour benefit, if it can – mine included.
So, that’s my conclusion. If I come across (or write) an explosive piece on, say, why cannibalism sucks in every way, I’ll post it with a short disclaimer: no-one on my timeline is an actual cannibal, this is just interesting, pass it on; you never know who can use it 🙂
But if I start posting items on the subject twice a week, someone out there is bound to ask me what the hell I’m on – do I think they’re all cannibals?!
And they’d be right to ask.