This is just a quick follow-up to my post from 10 days ago about frustration with what social media is doing to me, and to many of the people I follow.
TIME magazine just had a good article touching on many similar points that I was trying to make.
In his work, Van Bavel has found that tweets containing strong moral and emotional language, what he sums up as “moral outrage,” are about 20 percent more likely to get retweeted. This is correlated to the fact that politicians on the ideological extremes — be they Democratic or Republican — tend to have bigger followings than their moderate counterparts. “Taking strong, polarizing stances, that’s what gets rewarded,” Van Bavel says, describing President Donald Trump as “off the charts” in this department.
And each time someone is affirmed by “likes” or new followers for a post, they’re trained to share the same kind of content in the future. “If bad behavior or provocative and angry and ranting tweets lead to more attention,” says Deb Roy, director of MIT’s Lab for Social Machines, “well, you’ve just incentivized that behavior on the platform.”
If being deliberate and nuanced yields dispiriting crickets, it’s easy to see how users could get into a cycle in which they’re constantly trying to find things to get outraged about instead. Algorithms that select for popular content may be prioritizing and spreading the very types of posts that make people the most angry, says Yale psychologist Molly Crockett, and the social usefulness of outrage may be depleted in the process.
My experiment — the one I explained in that recent post — is still being tweaked, but overall I think it’s a huge success and I’m really happy about the new approach I’m using on Twitter, Facebook, etc. I’m hoping to do an update post in the near future with some observations about what’s changed.