Have you ever plunged into a digital black hole of tweets, retweets, and comments, and caught what I’ve come to refer to as the latest worldwide epidemic—Twitter rage?
I sure have.
There’s something about the word viral that’s perfect for describing the way a comment or video can hit the internet scene, multiply, and grow stronger and stronger as it penetrates the hearts and minds of people frantically snowballing it through the ether from behind their iPhones or computer screens. It’s like a disease infecting its victims with a gender-inclusive Mean-Girls syndrome, rich in keyboard courage and impulsive temper tantrums, lacking in civility, the thoughtful composure of ideas, and plain old adulthood.
I’ve thought about this phenomenon a lot lately, mostly because I just finished a book on tech overload and how it’s making so many of us lose our sanity and humanity.
When something controversial happens in the world, like Robert De Niro’s “F**k Trump” comment at the Tony Awards in June or the recent Brett Kavanaugh hearings, people become enraged.
Rage is nothing new, of course, but back in the days before social media, internal rage would turn into a discussion with whoever was in front of the TV with you at the time, or whoever was a phone call away. You’d talk it out and move on.
Times have changed.
In 2018, things play out differently for many. You happen to be on Twitter the night of the Tony Awards, as you’re likely on Twitter every day. You watch the De Niro video get tweeted and retweeted, each time preceded by a sarcastic or angry comment someone included in an attempt to go viral or simply let their most angry, irritated, thoughtless insults vent.
You chime in, post the video, and attach something clever and sarcastic of your own. Your initial rage over the De Niro comment itself grows bigger and stronger, as you’re now angry not only at De Niro, but at a whole bunch of strangers on the internet who see it differently from you, have replied angrily to your comment, and have taken up the opposite opinion, letting their most angry, irritated, thoughtless insults vent.
You chime in some more, replying directly to who-knows-who that is hiding behind who-knows-what photo and tweeting from who-knows-where.
You read the comment threads on other nasty tweets that you agree with, giving your rage a boost, puffed up with self-righteousness, feelings of animosity toward those in disagreement growing stronger. Minutes pass, then an hour.
Your Twitter timeline is filled with rage. And guess what? So are you.
I’ve been guilty of this knee-jerk social media anger. So many of us have. According to Pew Research Center, “Some 56% of conservative Republicans and 59 percent of liberal Democrats who use social media feel that the political discussions on these platforms are angrier than those occurring elsewhere.” But the thing is, why are we driving ourselves insane? Why are we spending hours inciting ourselves, inviting others to incite us, trapped in an Internet black hole where the worst parts of ourselves often thrive?
I know that Twitter rage (or any social media rage) can sometimes feel good at first. It’s like a rush of endorphins that say yes, I’m important and involved. Yes, people are listening. Yes, they’re responding. Yes, they think I’m right. Yes, I can duke it out, come and get me, I’m ready. It’s like a virtual boxing ring. Only you’re leaving all beat up.
You’re tired. You’ve wasted hours that could’ve been spent taking a walk or calling a friend to say hi, or watching a movie that makes you laugh. You’re not doing yourself any favors.
Social media may thrive on rage, but your body and mind don’t. The country doesn’t.
So the next time you’re about to leap headfirst into a social media rage storm, ask yourself if it’s worth it. Consider whether a prolonged, exhausting Twitter battle will add or detract from your mood and your day.
Think about the peace of mind that could instead come from saying your piece civilly and moving on, or sometimes not saying anything at all.