Is Outrage Culture Why People Are Leaving Social Media?

Social media is a crutch for managing relationships. Clicks, likes, and shares are not solid relationships. Actual relationships require time and effort.

Trigger warning: I believe in equality for all people regardless of gender, race, or identity politics. I believe in free speech. I do not believe in discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against men and white people.

Social media is often a psychological manipulation that has convinced us all that anyone we “friend” is our actual friend. Liking someone’s content has become an excuse to not engage with actual people, nor put the effort in to truly build a relationship. If I have learned one thing in my time on this planet it is that relationships are incredibly important, difficult, and time consuming to maintain. Learning to listen to others and engage them as equals, partners, and lovers is one of the greatest challenges we all face. Yet social media has thrown a wrench in society disrupting our very perception of what a relationship even is.

The other day I experienced outrage culture firsthand. I was trying out Twitter’s new timeline feature just before bed that lets you experience Twitter in chronological order again, like it used to be. I had recently followed a number of engineers in the tech industry to recruit some of them to come on my podcast. I believe in equality and I am doing my best to seek balance by inviting people to come on the show from all walks of life.

I came across one of these software eningeers complaining about how their friends were leaving social media, and it was making it difficult to plan events. I empathized with their situation, and asked them why they didn’t just reach out and talk to them off social media? My intention was to have a conversation with someone who works for a major tech company in Silicon Valley about the recent issues surrounding social networks, and help them find solutions to the challenges they are facing.

Their response to me was an awkward joke that personally I found rude and condescending. I believe in treating others as they treat me, and when someone crosses a line such as replying to a valid question with a condescending response I will defend myself. Using the exact same tactic this person had just used on me I replied condescendingly as well, as I commonly do when engaging with trolls.

The next thing I know this person starts to freak out and starts assuming things I never said or did as I attempted to have a conversation about the original topic at hand. This was clearly a mistake on my end, as upon reflection they were merely complaining to seek emotional validation, and were not interested in a conversation despite posting publicly on Twitter.

Clearly, I triggered this person by arguing that social media was a bad place to manage personal relationships. Without expressing their feelings, DMing me, or communicating with me in any meaningful manor they simply blocked me, so I let it go and went to bed. The whole thing was bizarre, and frankly immature. Not exactly the conversation I was hoping to have with this person.

Context and sequence of events matter.

Apparently after blocking me this person then took a screenshot out of context of one of the tweets I had sent after they were condescending towards me, and left their own condescending response to my question out of the screenshot. Out of context, this made it look like I had attacked them without provocation, which is absolutely inaccurate and false.

The next morning I woke up to being brigaded by this persons followers and friends. I had dozens of bigoted and hateful tweets sent to me accusing me of sexism and racism. The attacks were vicious and targeted me and harassed me for being both a male, and having white skin. The outrage mob was inherently being sexist and racist towards me for a situation that was taken completely out of context.

They contacted my publisher, they researched my personal life, made threats towards my significant other, and not a single person had an actual argument. They all assumed I was randomly condescending to someone on Twitter due to their gender or race, or both without any context. When the truth is I was merely reacting and responding to another person’s condescension and rude behavior. That is not sexism, nor is it racism. This situation in context had nothing to do with gender or race.

My only intention was to have a conversation with this person about the topics they originally brought up on a public forum and discuss them as equals. That’s kind of the entire point of Twitter.

I engaged with a few of these people and routinely asked them what their argument was exactly, and all they did was either double down on personally attacking me or stopped responding. Only one person actually DMed me to have a conversation about reparations, another person remained civil, but nearly everyone else attacked me without any desire to even understand what had happened.

I even offered to hop on video chat with several of my accusers to discuss the situation. Not a single person would accept my offer. Meanwhile, the person who started this whole thing blocked me, preventing me from defending myself from their false, libelous, and inaccurate accusations.

I realize what little discussion we did have involved unsettling truths and realities this person did not want to face. It was not my intention to trigger them, but I see now why they reacted so dramatically. Even so, me triggering them by stating truths about the nature of the topic they brought up does not justify their actions of making false out of context accusations towards me. Nor does it excuse them for rallying an outrage mob and witch hunt against me.

My argument throughout this entire conversation was that social media is a crutch for managing personal relationships. It is an illusion that tricks us into believing we are close personal friends with someone because we like some of their posts, invite them to social events by checking their name off a list, and stalk their photos without ever talking to them. Social media has convinced us that likes, clicks, and shares are how you maintain a relationship with someone. It is now apparently acceptable behavior to not directly engage or talk with people who are supposed to be our friends, and falsely accuse others of thought crimes they did not commit thanks to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Relationships require effort beyond social media.

It is tragic to think that an entire generation has been manipulated into believing we no longer need to put any effort into building and managing any kind of meaningful personal relationships with others beyond clicking on an app or website. It is equally disturbing that this same generation is so quick to assume the worst in others, and launch outrage mobs against them based on falsities rather then engaging them in a conversation.

Apparently informing some people that just because you are friends with someone on Facebook or Twitter doesn’t mean you have a close personal relationship with them is enough to trigger them into launching a witch hunt against you. It is almost like telling a child who still believes in Santa Claus that Santa isn’t real so they throw a tantrum and tell all the children at school that you are a bully merely because you stated the truth. An entire generation has not been taught the temporary nature of acquaintances, and believes they can just take everyone they’ve ever come in contact with in the past into the future without any effort on their end. However, that is not how relationships or reality works.

Maybe I’m old school, but if you don’t have another person’s contact information, don’t make any effort to communicate with them directly, and only interact with them through social media and the occasional social event, then they probably aren’t as close a friend as you thought they were. I stand by this argument, as it is the unfortunate truth of this entire situation that was clearly lost on everyone who attacked me.

The only thing I am guilty of is treating this person as an equal, and treating them the same way they treated me. Obviously, I could have and should have disengaged, but in real-time I had no way of gauging the situation. How was I to know this person would resort to libel for simply not emotionally validating them?

At the end of the day, people are leaving social media not just because of the data scandals and privacy issues. Perhaps the real reason people are leaving social media is because they do not want to be falsely accused of thought crimes, or attacked by outrage mobs and social justice brigades for seemingly common interactions and behaviors. Maybe they don’t want to manage their relationships through a looking glass of meaningless clicks and manipulation.

No matter what your beliefs are it is not acceptable to falsely accuse others and cry wolf in an attempt to shame someone because you disagree with them. We can do better.

As someone who believes in equality for everyone and who is opposed to sexism, racism, discrimination, and bigotry of all kinds I find it ironic that I am being accused of these things for treating someone as an equal. I basically got baited and trolled into a hive of some of the most hateful regressive and bigoted people on the Internet because I believe in the free exchange of ideas, and treating others as they treat me.

Meanwhile, the act of spreading false out of context information and seeding malicious libelous accusations against someone is way worse then anything I said or did. Actions speak louder than text on a screen, and the people who attacked me were actually the ones guilty of doing the very bigotry they were accusing me of.

With all this said, I will not disclose the name of the person who did this because unlike them I do not believe in shaming others online for personal gain. However, I published this because I believe it is important that we have a conversation about outrage culture and social media, which is what I was trying to do in the first place. I just happened to poorly select someone to converse with who wasn’t really looking for a conversation and who instead was simply complaining. This is often why text on a screen causes so many miscommunications, and does not adequately express human intent.

Social media is poison for the soul.

Outrage mobs and culture will be the death of social media, and I for one cannot wait for the day when people wake up and figure out that real relationships happen between people, they require nurturing, and no amount of technology will ever change that.

Lastly, I will not be silenced or shamed by false accusations. I know who I am in my heart, and no amount of outrage culture can shame me into changing my values. In fact, these attacks merely reinforced my belief in equality, and reaffirmed the degree of insanity that has infected our culture furthering my arguments against the use of social media for forming and managing relationships.

“Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom — and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.” — Benjamin Franklin