John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris on Twitter’s Outrage Amplification

Recently, a friend shared with me a statement on a personal issue that she wanted to post on social media. I urged her not to do it, partly because of my own experiences with social media, and partly because I’m convinced that what happens on these platforms isn’t nearly as consequential as we often feel they are.

I learned a lot about this a few months ago, when an article I wrote kicked off a pretty serious social media reaction. While many expressed gratitude for the article, it also set off a backlash on Twitter. Thousands of responses flooded my feed, most of them filled with outrage. It seemed overwhelming at the time, but a wise friend advised me to lay low, predicting it would be over in 72 hours. He was right. In fact, a few weeks afterward, when I asked people about the whole incident, hardly anyone was aware of it.

I thought about this recently when one of our Colson Center board members sent around a video from a recent Senate hearing. Last month, Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist with Google and co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, testified on Capitol Hill about social media.

In his testimony, Harris made startling comments about Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. By far the most telling was how he described these platforms. He called them “outrage amplifiers.” This emotional reaction—outrage—is the secret sauce in social media’s success.

According to Harris, Twitter in particular is deliberately designed to spark, exploit, and perpetuate moral outrage. He cited one study showing that every outrage-word a user adds to their tweet increases their retweet rate by 17 percent!

Article after article has documented the rise of “call-out culture,” the kind of online feeding frenzy that grips users and drives them—often in the space of hours—to destroy individuals’ lives and careers for the smallest offenses. If Harris is to be believed, this outrage amplification isn’t a bug in social media, it’s a feature. In fact, it’s their “business model.”

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SOURCE: Christian Post, John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris