The angry temperature on social media has been increasing year over year. If you find yourself reading social media posts that are angrier, on the attack, or spreading misinformation and disinformation, you’re not alone. In fact, what you’re feeling is supported by studies that show there is an increase in negative emotions on social media, including anger. So, why are people demonstrating greater anger and other emotional outbursts online?
REASONS FOR BEING ANGRY
There can be several reasons for the display of on-line anger and other negative emotional outbursts towards others that range from being manipulated by social media, learned social behaviour, envy, and personal self and life challenges.
ANGRY BEHAVIOUR REWARDED
A study from Yale University that was published in the “Science Advances” journal, suggests that “online networks encourage us to express more moral outrage because it gets more likes than other interactions”. An increase in interactions translates into profits for the social media company as it converts usage into advertising income. The angry user becomes a pawn for the online social media company, as encouragement reinforces the angry behaviour, and the behaviour continues to grow and spread among other users.
ENVY OF OTHERS
Another study by Statistics Canada showed that, “around one in eight users (12% to 14%) reported feeling anxious or depressed, frustrated, or angry, or envious of the lives of others. These types of posts can be found in political threads as people blame different political leaders and their political parties for their current life situation. The anger is often directed at both the leader and any supporters of that leader. Sometimes the envy or jealousy is aimed at a professionals who have a higher education, make more money, or are in an employment position the angry person knows they have not achieved and perhaps never will.
LOW SELF ESTEEM FEEDS YOUR ANGRY
Social media platforms also provide anonymity and a virtual barrier, making it easier to poke someone without any physical or other real retaliations. Anonymity and fear minimization gives those with low self-esteem, low self-confidence, or even a lack of understanding in human behaviour, power they might not otherwise feel they have. A platform like X (Twitter) is a tool that allows them to use their voice to be obnoxious or rude, making themselves feel powerful and strong. While they may garner a boost from others behaving the same way, it does little to help improve their overall self-esteem in any long-term manner.
Sometimes the angry behaviour is simply learned. This can be something that translated from the home environment or even early exposure to other like-minded people who gained likes and followers from using harsh words as their norm in online engagements. Over time, the behaviour has become internalized, and they often continue to respond in the same manner when they feel enraged by situations beyond their control, comprehension, or willingness to separate fact from misinformation and disinformation.
MISINFORMATION & DISINFORMATION
There is a difference between misinformation and disinformation, both of which can be the cause and effect of angry behaviour. Misinformation is when “false information is unknowingly distributed”. Disinformation is “when a person knows that the information, they are sharing isn’t factual at all, but still decides to share, post, and promote it.” (Is Your Opinion Supporting Misinformation or Disinformation?). There are several reasons people may spread misinformation or disinformation.
Social Media provides an environment where people may develop their beliefs from the testimony of others, who they develop a trust relationship based on like-minded behaviours. Sometimes the ideas that are spread through on-line social learning are simply, wrong, but based on those perceived trust relationships, the information continues to be shared.
Social Media platforms also reward users for sharing information. Users who share more and share content that attracts attention tend to increase their social media footprint. Users then continue to share misinformation or disinformation because they are conditioned to perceive the reward to be greater to them personally than the harm it may cause to others.
LOW MEDIA LITERACY
A 2018 study showed that “most young people don’t have a good understanding of what constitutes fake news vs real news,” and that they “have trouble critically thinking about media and judging its credibility, especially online.” That group that was demonstrating low media literacy is now five years older. They have had five years to further influence the next generation of online users as they continue to spread misinformation and disinformation, depending on their socio-economic situation.
PARTISANSHIP & IDENTITY
Leaning further towards disinformation is the idea that people demonstrate partisanship which is prejudice in favour of a cause or belief they may have, sometimes through motivated reasoning, or even distrust of institutions (including traditional media). Their confirmation bias, which is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of their existing beliefs or theories, further solidifies their partisanship and identity.
CO-EXISTING WITH THE ANGRY
The reasons for demonstrating angry behaviour coupled with those elements that fuel misinformation and disinformation can and have created a new standard on social media that is interpreted as “freedom of speech”, or as a set of “facts” that are truer than the facts of others who don’t share the same view therefore making those facts false.
While there are strategies to try and have meaningful, factual exchanges, like: focusing on the point of the argument, keeping the exchange simple, not introducing new topics or changing the focus, avoiding name calling and other shaming, and providing real defensible evidence, there must be a willingness from both parties to achieve a fair exchange. Those fair exchanges seem fewer as the anger temperature rises.
Example: Distrust & Off Topic Attacks
In a recent post one user wrote, “It made Breakfast TV”? That’s a yardstick of credibility now? You sound vaccinated.” In the same thread, someone else writes, “I’m sure all seven viewers were suitably horrified.” You can see how this post first tried to discredit the news station and then attacked the individual for something totally unrelated to the actual topic. The second post tries to devalue the news station based on their interpretation of how many people even watch the show.
Example: Evidence Fitting
In another post, someone writes “I saw the video. Not true. Poilievre seems solid”. This was in reference to Canadian Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre berating a Canadian Press journalist about his own error in quoting media sources during the car explosion incident at the Niagara Falls border. It’s a great example of how they were interpreting evidence to fit their own narrative.
Someone else writes, “He got that information from government sponsored media. Maybe fix sponsoring the liars at CTV, CBC, Global and all the rest of the absolute disgraces.” Again, there is an attack on traditional media accusing them and the government of working together to trick the larger population. The idea that all these news agencies and the government, the same organizations that they also accuse of not being able to do simple tasks, are able to have this massive relationship and multi-story coverup makes it all nonsensical to anyone willing to step outside of the angry view.
WHO ARE YOU ONLINE AND WHY?
There is no shortage of online examples demonstrating anger, misinformation, and disinformation. What you do with this information, depending on who you are online can make a difference in your life and that of future generations. If current online behaviour is any indication, this short article won’t change your mind if you see yourself in any of these examples. In fact, you’re likely to double-down and accuse the article itself of being partisan, having an agenda, taking money from the government, and all sorts of other conspiracy theories that fit your mood or narrative. Or maybe you hear the bells and will re-think your social engagements.
Finding ways to have meaningful, factual, peaceful conversations that stay on-topic would be a great new year’s resolution, at any time of year.
This is an opinion article by Guido Piraino of The Monthly Social Podcast. It may also be heard on The Path Radio Mix Online. You can read other opinion articles on the blog page. You may also enjoy video content of The Monthly Social Podcast on YouTube or The Path Radio Mix on YouTube. For sports content, please consider The Coach's Call YouTube Podcast.
- Is Your Opinion Supporting Misinformation or Disinformation?
- Studies show lack of media literacy in students has negative impact - The Daily Universe (byu.edu)
- Social media making us angrier, study reveals - CORDIS
- Canadians’ assessments of social media in their lives - Statistics Canada
- Why Social Media Makes Us Angrier—and More Extreme
- Social Media and Stress | Pew Research Center