Why You’re Getting So Angry Online

And how to avoid social media rage.

If you exist in this day and age, chances are you’re on social media. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have become content-sharing machines, where literally anyone with an opinion can post that opinion, and have it be widely disseminated.

That’s not bad on its own. Social media has allowed many formerly voiceless people to gain a platform, share their views, and be heard where otherwise they wouldn’t.

That being said, social media has recently been noted for its tendency to radicalize. What that means is that your opinions get stronger. If you start out anti-Trump, you spend some time on the internet and your feelings are likely to be stronger. If you begin anti-vax, content on the internet will justify your feelings.

One thing I’ve noticed in particular is the tendency to share things you disagree with, too. For example, when Donald Trump tweets something ludicrous, lots of Twitter observers will retweet to their followers, disagreeing vehemently. A certain piece of hate speech that I normally wouldn’t be exposed to, might be shown to me because someone else has shared it with a critical comment attached.

Here’s an example: someone I follow retweeted a Tweet from someone (not the author) posting an article about Donald Trump lying.

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Screenshot from my Twitter timeline.

It absolutely worked. I clicked on it, got angry that Donald Trump was lying about something really inconsequential, closed the tab and spent maybe three minutes fuming about it. I considered liking the Tweet, to show my solidarity with the sentiment, which would have propagated it further.

Even if you only follow people you agree with, or people who don’t have strong opinions, it’s almost impossible to not encounter some kind of incendiary content that will make you mad.

So the anger gets escalated, shared, and ramped up again in a kind of online anger ratchet.

Bring in the trolls.

This unique component of social media is compounded by the presence of trolls. What trolls do is rile up anyone who reads their comments. Deliberately provocative, trolls do their best to get you angry, sometimes in the explicit hope that you’ll spread their work for them, even if it’s in a negative way. Angry eyeballs are still eyeballs, after all.

One example of this is the now-defunct website Return of Kings, dedicated to Men’s Rights Activism, which used outrage to be widely shared and gain a much sturdier foothold than they would have had nobody shared their content.

You might know someone like this in real life, who’s loud and argumentative just for the sake of it. But unlike real life, where you can face negative consequences for being a troll (confrontation, other people disagreeing with you verbally) online trolls can spout their garbage free of any form of social censure, through anonymity and lax regulations.

So not only do you get run-of-the-mill negativity, more widely spread and contributing to the idea that things are getting worse even though they aren’t; you also have people who have taken it upon themselves to make you angry. That’s their only goal online.

Why is that bad?

Surely it’s good that we’re all aware of the issues that face us today, and it’s important to keep up with what the people in power are saying especially if it’s something you disagree with. I used to follow certain misogynistic Twitter accounts, just to keep my finger on the pulse of what the enemy were saying.

But the thing is, we’re aware already. Before choosing to follow them on Twitter, I already knew that a group of incels hated women (which I’m purposefully not linking to) existed; there was no point in me being exposed to that content more than necessary.

And there’s not that much we can do about it. So we just waste energy pointlessly worrying, getting angry, or even commenting further ourselves to share with our followers.

Art by author.

It seems to me that the best course of action is to avoid getting mad. It’s draining to be constantly angry, and it achieves nothing. If it did any good, if every retweet actually benefited, I truly believe the world would be a very different place.

It’s easier said than done to avoid getting really angry on social media, because a lot of the time your anger will feel justified and self-righteous. It will feel good, to get angry that there are people out there with views that are wrong. It feels right.

“A business model that relies above all on getting and keeping attention has little time or use for neutrality, nuance or sophistication.” — Zoe Williams on the Guardian.

But all it does is put you into a state of constant exhaustion, and if you share in hopes for validation (like I’m prone to doing), well, you’re exposing it to other people who might not especially want to see that a member of congress known for being racist, misogynistic, or used otherwise hateful, use a nasty slur to describe a marginalized group, for example.

Unless you’re going to use it to get people motivated to change policies, volunteer, or bring to light new information about someone, consider not sharing your anger.

Here’s how you can avoid social media rage:

1. Share positivity.

If you see a troll, don’t give it attention. Don’t quote-retweet to your followers, don’t tell other people about how horrible it was. Think of something nice instead. You can Google “Good things that happened today,” or just share an observation from your life. For example, I saw a dog today. The dog was very good. I sent a picture to my friend, and cheered her up.

2. Do something.

It’s hard to feel like we have much to give which why sharing stuff on social media is so attractive to us, because it’s easy and we feel like we’re making a difference. But we’re not. So instead, when you see yet another news article about how Trump is trying to use money to build a wall, and you feel mad or sad, but helpless, contribute time or money to a cause you’re passionate about if you’re able.

For instance, every Monday, I run with a local volunteer group called GoodGym where members jog to a place, volunteer there for 45 minutes, then jog back. It’s not much, but when I feel utterly lost and like I can’t make a difference, I remember that with just a little time and effort, I can make my community a bit better.

3. Try social media on your terms.

You don’t have to drop it entirely, which can seem like a radical step. It’s a big jump and you might not be ready for it — I’m certainly not.

But try small steps. Turn off your notifications for Twitter. You don’t have to have news blaring at you non-stop. Instead, engage with it when you choose, when you feel emotionally prepared. Or don’t at all.

Follow people you like. Unfollow the ones who you notice make you angry — even if you agree with what they’re saying. Unless your anger drives you to effect change, it’s a pointless waste of energy.

The reason I’m writing this story is because I spent a big chunk of my morning fuming. I’d seen a Tweet — I can’t even remember what it was about now — and it made me mad. I called my mom and we vented together about if for fifteen minutes, resolving nothing as we both agreed with each other that it was bad.

I came to the perhaps unsurprising conclusion that social media outrage is a real phenomenon that I’m not impervious to. No matter how wisely I guard my follows, nor how carefully I scour my Facebook feed, I’ll see stuff I disagree with, or ugly things, or things written explicitly to get me to click, read, and retweet, with no substance or call for change.

I’m tired of being tired of being angry. I want to stop. I deleted Twitter and Facebook of my phone, and I’ve vowed to myself that if I can’t change it, I’ll leave it.

We’re right to feel emotions about bad things happening, right to be angry about injustices and inequality. But when the influx is constant, numbing away our ability to feel that we can change, it’s time to take more control over our social media anger.

Written by

MSc by Research. Psychology nerd. She/her. zuliewrites.com

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