A sampling — a sliver, really — of outrage from my Facebook feed.
- Why aren’t you outraged every single day?
- This should outrage everyone who reads it.
- Where’s the outrage about this guy??
- After a week of constant outrage and fear, I’m physically and emotionally ill.
- Study Finds People Are Morally Outraged by Those Who Decide Not to Have Kids
- Anti-pot billboards’ awkward race commentary sparks outrage
- Outrage As White Teacher Tells Black Student Her African Themed Prom Dress Is Too Tacky!
- Vanity Fair outrage: Michelle Obama, not Melania Trump, makes International Best Dressed List and…
- Stop Pretending to Be Outraged by Kathy Griffin’s Gross Video
Besides social media exposures to outrage, there are also real life exposures to outrage. I can’t remember a time of so much outrage. Can you?
We’re Being Played
The Internet has elevated an old currency to an unprecedented level of importance: our attention. Everyone wants it, including most of us (you may be exempt if you are purely a lurker). The reason we post things on the Internet is so that people will pay attention to us, to our words and ideas.
It’s one thing to court attention using above-board means. If people can opt in or opt out their attention based on fact and reason, that’s one thing. But increasingly, we are being manipulated — and we become participants in the manipulation — with sneakier, highly affective requests for engagement. Our emotions.
Why? Such tactics work. And they pay.
Tobias Rose-Stockwell has a fascinating article on Medium that shows
how the strategies of digitally capturing our attention have altered us — our lives, our media, and our worldview.
There is profit to be had when we are outraged. It’s in someone’s interest to get and keep us outraged.
Doesn’t that in itself make you want to figure out how to not succumb to the trickery? And how not to become complicit in perpetuating it?
Propaganda Ain’t New. It Ain’t Old, Either.
Tobias Rose-Stockwell says:
During the lead up to World War I, unchecked propaganda from all sides in the news reached a fever-pitch…By the end of the war it was clear that information warfare was a powerful weapon — it could raise armies, incite violent mobs, and destabilize whole nations.
You may think you’re immune to propaganda. I admit when I read the article I was thinking it was other people falling for emotional engagement, not me. But then I started paying attention to what I clicked on and what I wanted to Share. I found that I struggle to keep my mind my own. Do you?
Reacting from the Bottom of the Brain Stem
Facebook’s algorithm (and those of other social media platforms) enhances the effects of affective engagement by mapping our brains and then feeding each of us more of what we already consume. The algorithms find your patterns of engagement and create a “private personal pipeline of media just for you.”
The problem, says Rose-Stockwell, is that
By traditional journalistic standards, the [Facebook] News Feed Editor is a very, very bad editor… It doesn’t identify content that is profoundly biased, or stories that are designed to propagate fear, mistrust, or outrage.
Attention-seekers have responded to these lack of standards accordingly.
The News Feed Editor has literally changed the way news is written. It has become the number one driver of traffic to news sites globally, and that has shifted the behavior of content creators. This is the reason many of the news stories you see today lead with over-the-top, dramatic, attention-grabbing statements — they are trying to engage with you and rise above the competition.
Rose-Stockwell shares that tech ethicist Tristan Harris calls this phenomenon “a race to the bottom of the brain stem.”
That soft target plus our current climate of extreme partisanship make us complicit in our own emotional hijacking.
As the former head of content at a major millennial-focused publisher recently told me, “It’s not our job to challenge political opinions. It’s our job to ride your politics as far as we can.“
Sounds like a policy even non-millennial-focused news outlets like CNN, MSNBC and Fox News might also embrace.
The Counterintuitive Effect of Calm
But what if the way to reduce terrorism, for instance, was to stop being outraged by it, to stop spreading outrage about it? As Rose-Stockwell points out, “We have built an instant distribution system for [terrorism’s] actual intent — Terror.” He illustrates this point with a chart of New York Times coverage of all homicide deaths, claiming “profound asymmetry in coverage of terrorist attacks vs. other types of homicides.”
What if sacrificing our outrage began to cure our ills? If perception is reality, what if we purposefully shut off access to our outrage for those who seek to reach the bottom of our brain stem? What if we stop giving away the thing that’s being used against us? What if we tried to perceive things with less affect and more reason, and we responded with discernment?
Could changing our perception about terrorism also change the reality of terrorism?
Inserting a Permission Point
And what if we took the same non-outrage strategy with other -isms: racism, elitism, narcissism, despotism, nepotism, establishmentarianism, pick-your-own-ism? Like the non-violence ideology of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr, could non-outrage be the subtle yet powerful stance that begins to transform things for the better? If we sacrifice our outrage, could we actually improve our lives and our world?
I’m not talking about ignoring wrongdoing. I’m talking about discerning. Discerning between actually taking steps to right a wrong, and simply spreading outrage within us and around us.
It’s the moment of discernment that makes the difference between perpetuating ripples of outrage and or defusing red hot anger and choosing instead to cultivate coolness, calmness.
I invite you to spend two weeks being more intentional about what you click on, what you share, what and whom you give access to your brain stem. Begin to notice if your emotions are being used without your knowledge, and take steps to insert your permission somewhere in the process.
At the very least, can we agree not to be the person who RH;PAC?