Over the Thanksgiving weekend, social media went absolutely up in arms over the latest injustice to befall the holiday season from the evils of Corporate America. Backlash poured out from Twitter, Facebook, even Instagram, as the latest transgression against the holiday spirit fueled the rage of millions.
This outrage, however, had nothing to do with Black Friday starting even earlier into Thursday. Nor was this about increasing wage inequality placing a bind on the working class. No human rights violations behind this rage. Thankfully, not even a red coffee cup was to blame.
What Scrooge-like villainy could be so diabolical, so cruel, that it could rally millions under one cause?
The Reese’s Peanut Butter Christmas Trees didn’t look enough like Christmas trees.
Take as much time as you need to digest that.
It’s becoming increasingly easier to send the internet flying off the figurative train tracks of rational thought and into a cesspool of hypersensitivity and hurt feelings.
Be it from pressing current issues such as racial inequality or police brutality, to the absolute absurdity of plain coffee cups and misshaped chocolate, it seems as though these days all one needs to start a national campaign is a single offended Tumblr user and a hashtag.
What’s to blame? Is this merely the fault of simple peer pressure? Or perhaps is something far more cerebral at work? The answer may have far more to do with why we use the term “viral” to describe internet trends.
Imagine your every thought as a germ. Now, imagine that every time you shared that thought, you spread that germ. Youtuber, CGP Grey has an excellent video covering this topic called, “This Video Will Make You Angry”.
In his video, Grey presents a study from the University of Pennsylvania that examines how much faster a “thought germ” can spread when coupled with an emotion, such as the awe factor of a cute cat video, or the shock of a news anchor swearing on air. Of those emotions studied, however, the one with the most carrying power was without question anger.
Here’s an example: It all starts with a video of just another firebrand, evangelist nut-job screaming at the top of his lungs about how a plain red coffee cup somehow signifies an intense hatred for Jesus. As the video is liked, favourited, shared, retweeted, it grows in power. It attracts the passion of not only those buying into the message but the ire of those opposing as well.
Here’s where it gets interesting. As the message spreads, it evolves. It begins to fragment and change. Soon for every supporter, there is opposition. Every offended response gives birth to equally offended sidebar conversations. This viral rage is trending. Soon, it will undoubtedly be picked up by a national news coverage, now obligated to report on an opinion piece weighed in on by millions of people.
Like germs, the outrage fueled thoughts spread from one user to the next. The reach of the thought germs grows wider with each share. Much like evolution, only the strongest survive, in this case, the most radical stances, as they have the most hatred to fed upon. As Grey further explains, this is true for both sides of the argument. The thought germs are not enemies, they grow stronger feeding off each other as both sides of the argument clash. They build a symbiotic relationship to one another.
“This explains why in some arguments gaining more allies, also gains more enemies. Because though the participants think they’re involved in a fiery battle to the death. From the anger germs perspective; one side is a field of flowers and the other a flock of butterflies,” said Grey.
“Of course, planting more flowers will get you more butterflies, and getting more butterflies will pollinate more flowers.”
This might seem trivial. However, if left to grow, hate can become a tragedy. This past Thanksgiving weekend, while America was bickering over the shape of chocolate candy. If this weekend’s big story, regarding the mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, can teach us anything, it’s that if left unchecked, viral hate can be just as fatal as any other disease.
With social media, any thought can be published and spread across the world in seconds. Every minuscule inner monologue can be just as quickly transformed into a powerful national dialogue. For the sake of our own sanity, and worse yet our own safety, something needs to change. 2015 was a bleak year peppered with senseless violence and hypersensitivity. Not everything is a battle. Not everything is a crisis.
I propose that we take strides now to make 2016 the year that we regain our toughness. You don’t need to fight every battle that comes your way. Except that there always be people who disagree with you. Leave the comments alone the next time a story bugs you. Let’s face it, you won’t change anyone’s mind anyway. Keep calm and scroll on.