You might enjoy Scott Alexander’s thoughts on Tumblr’s interface, written at the height of that particular zeitgeist: http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/12/17/the-toxoplasma-of-rage/ (whole thing is good, Tumblr ui stuff is relevant)
Also, isn’t there a more “gradual” version of what’s being described here? Everyone jumped on the bad Ariane Grande joke because it was the perfect example of what exactly not to do in that situation, enabling your “signal virtue via trolling” thing. Same with Justine Sacco, who’s tweet, especially a few rounds of social media obfuscation and groupthink, was the embodiment of what callout culture hated.
But, to go back a few months, look at someone like Sally Albright — a Clintonite neoliberal who is willing to embody Clintonite neoliberal beliefs in the exact terms and attitudes that opponents of Clintonite neoliberalism would prefer their opponents to use. If I can appropriate for a moment, she’s the ideal yin to the Bernie socialist yang, without any of these pesky complications of half-agreement. The natural process here is that she becomes elevated for this same reason: the perfectly heelish tweets therefore require response, trolling becomes virtue. Albright, who was something like a mid-level political staffer with no substantive, gets elevated from “no one in particular” to “supervillain” in the process.
I’m picking a bit on socialist left Twitter here, but there’s tons of these across different groups. Bill Mitchell got popular precisely because of the fact he embodied an idea of Republican resistance to facts and logic; this led to lots of liberal journalists following and mocking him, until he brutally owned us all. Heat Street and their writers exist to elevate every overzealous campus activist into a threat to civilization. When Tracer was announced as a lesbian, there was a deep-seated desired for angry gamers lashing out. I remember checking and finding…not all that much, really. But the few comments that did got elevated in the same way...
Ok I’m thinking out loud, but again, good piece.