The Internet is awesome. With it, you can go up and down the intellectual spectrum, rapidly spreading things you love — from a hipster-ironic version of America’s Funniest Home Videos (“Look! A Youtube video where a guy gets hit in the nuts with a cat playing a keytar!”) to a Wired article on how some dude replaced his head with a high-octane wireless router and now he’s the world’s first human internet server.
Thing is, the Internet is also good at rapidly spreading — and at times magnifying — negative energy, too. Hate, racism, sexism, prejudice, other negativity. And countering those: outrage, which is itself a kind of negativity (though one aimed at positive effect through negative reach).
Outrage is a very real currency on the Internet, as every week gives us a metric fuckbucket of new things to get mad about: “Canada is electrocuting adorable river otters in the streets! In DC Comics’ continuity they just just killed off all the female superheroes in an event called The Gynopocalypse, and they’ve replaced all the female characters with scantily-clad hat racks! Snowden just revealed Project: Polyp, where the NSA has been implanting listening devices in our rectums for the last 30 years! Penny Arcade just said something stupid. Er, again! GUNS HEALTH CARE FAKE GEEK GIRLS CENSORSHIP SOCIALISM AAAAAAAH THANKS OBAMA.”
*skull melts like a chocolate bunny in a microwave*
As of late I’ve felt a little bit of outrage fatigue and, as a result, a kind of outrage-based anxiety — a tiredness of various causes resulting in an unexpected hesitation to dip my feet into the rivers of social media because to do so risks that pinching inside my guttyworks. And this isn’t because I think the outrage is fake or manufactured. Rather, I feel it, too. It’s the real deal. Entirely justified and understandable. Frequently as tangible as a sharp knife turned palmward.
But it’s weary-making.
So, I started noodling on it and when I tend to noodle on something that noodling results in a blogpost of dubious assertions and uncertain ideas. This is the result of said noodling. Here, then, are my thoughts on how to manage and mitigate outrage on the Internet.
Your thoughts are welcome.
Assume That All Outrage Is Authentic
Start from the presupposition that someone’s concerns or complaints are real. Not bullshit. Not faux-genuine. But honestly authentic and coming from a very real place. To assume otherwise requires a very cynical attempt at guesswork where your first step out of the gate is to question everyone’s — even your own — reasons and motives for being upset about something, and it also assumes you know just what the hell is going on inside their heads and their hearts. You don’t know their history. You don’t know what upsets someone or why. If your outrage is real, it’s best to assume everyone else’s is, too.
Just because you don’t like or agree with their outrage is no reason to dismiss it.
Silencing Outrage Is For Assholes
Outrage exists for a reason. We get upset because something has affected us — whether just under the skin or spearing us all the way through our exoskeletons and into our vulnerable hearts. It is completely and utterly shitty to try to take that away from someone: when your only acknowledgment of someone else’s outrage is to suggest that it doesn’t belong, isn’t deserved, and should just get banished from the public conversation, you’re the problem, not the solution. And it’s the same when you have a fire burning in your own belly: there’s nothing more frustrating than having something you believe be dismissed and diminished by another ignorant motherfucker (usually someone who disagrees and hopes that by silencing your outrage they gain a kind of moral upper hand). Do not be silenced. Do not silence others.
Don’t Compare Causes
Prioritize your outrage; don’t prioritize the outrage of others.
You see this a lot. Someone says, “I’m mad about that thing that company did this week,” and someone pipes in with, “YOU’RE WORRIED ABOUT SHELTER DOGS (or SEXIST COMICS or RACIST GENETICALLY-MODIFIED HIGH-FRUCTOSE ORANGUTANS), BUT THERE ARE CHILDREN IN SYRIA BEING KILLED.” Which is entirely true. And entirely sad. But one concern doesn’t steal from another. We feel what we feel and we all contribute our part. That has to be okay. Maybe that person doesn’t know enough about what’s going on in Syria. Or they’re so angry they literally cannot parse it. Maybe they talked about it a week ago and you missed it. Hell, maybe they just don’t care that much. That has to be okay, too. We can’t turn the volume up on every issue the world around: that’s a good way to invite a complete and total mental breakdown.
We all compartmentalize and prioritize.
Do not judge, lest ye yourself be judged. And maybe punched in the genital configuration.
Engage Diplomatically With Outrage (Yours And Everyone Else’s)
When you bring a cause or a concern to the world, folks are gonna wanna talk about it. Maybe they agree. Maybe they want more information. Maybe they don’t agree one little bit. But engagement is on the menu — and presumably that’s okay, since that’s the whole reason to mention it in the first place.
Be nice. Don’t be a dick.
You’re a diplomat representing your own anger — but that doesn’t mean your anger needs to be on display. We feel that way when someone disagrees with us, but what’s the value-add there by responding with anger? Responding with honesty, sure. Even frustration, okay. But anger? Insult? Throwing pain on top of pain, countering negativity with negativity?
If you see nothing to be gained by interacting with someone on a particular topic: just don’t engage or allow them to engage you. Ignorance is fine. If you do see value, then engage with as much politeness as you can muster. Because then a wonderful thing might happen: one or both of you might actually (gasp) learn stuff from each other. How fucking goofy-cool would that be?
Your Two New Best Friends: “Block” And “Unfollow”
If someone persists in being an asshole — or if you just don’t want their signal in your frequency anymore — then embrace the power of unfollow or, in extreme circumstances, block.
Yes, social media is frequently in danger of being an echo chamber where we throw out an opinion and our crowd boomerangs it back to us — that way, we learn nothing, we gain nothing, we do nothing. But you’re also not required to tolerate intolerance. You’re not forced to engage with people with whom you will never see eye to eye on any issue, ever. Our social media circles are bigger, more bloated versions of our friend circles in real life. If you wouldn’t tolerate hanging out with them in person for any period of time, why allow them into the digital version of the same? (Online friends are real friends, by the way.)
When Presented With Challenges, Present Solutions
It’s easy to just… you know, be all RAZZAFRAZZA GNNNNRRR BLARGH RAGEMONKEY FURYCHIMP KICK HOLE IN THE UNIVERSE EEEEYAAAAAARGH, but that’s not entirely productive. It’s honest! It’s understandable! But again: what’s the value proposition, here?
Take your rage. Form it into an arrow. Shoot that right into the eye of your enemy.
Meaning, translate your anger into something actionable. Something productive. It’s very easy to point out problems, but more difficult — and far more valuable — to find solutions. Otherwise, all you’re doing is yelling into an empty bucket hoping it’ll fill up. (Spoiler alert: it won’t.)
Charities! Corporate email bombs! Petitions! Boycotts! Voting booths! Whatever it is you feel might make a difference: do that thing, and try to spread it around.
Embrace Outrage In Areas You Influence
This isn’t to say you can’t be mad about stuff outside your sphere of influence and/or control, but you will find it far more clarifying and productive if you embrace the issues that affect you and your community. Fix the things you can fix. Cleave more closely to those spaces that you control and that matter to you directly.
Try To Be Informed
The Internet makes it easy to spread around love and hate, but even more viral is the syphilitic transmission of misinformation. We sometimes get pissed off based on things that never even happened or aren’t even remotely true — “HOLY SHITQUIDDICH, JUSTIN BIEBER STOMPED A BAG OF BABY BADGERS TO DEATH ON THE TODAY SHOW THIS MORNING.” Mmnope, not true, and really easy to fact-check, except we’re all a bunch of gullible slack-jaws half the time willing to believe any chain mail that comes poop-plopping into our inboxes.
I’ve done it.
You’ve done it.
We need to do less of it.
Pay attention. Do a little research. (Hint: if the article comes from some fringe journal — WHITEPOWERGUNLIBERTYNEWS.COM or BLACKHELICOPTERSORGANICPRODUCE.COM — then dig deeper to see if it’s actually a thing other people are saying or if it’s purely the artifice of some whackaloon “Internet news” outlet.) Try not to spread outrage based on bad info.
Be A Fountain, Not A Drain
Counter your outrage by trying to also put happy stuff into the world. Talk about things you like. Share good news! If it’s a picture of a hedgehog in a jaunty top-hat and a serious-looking monocle, for shit’s sake, I wanna see it. WE ALL WANT TO SEE IT.
That hedgehog will make the world a better place.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the outrage and just be a rage-faucet 24/7. That’s not helpful to you. That’s not helpful to everyone else. Mitigate. Countermand the negativity by introducing a little positivity back into the world. Fight back shadows with flashlights.
You’re Allowed An Outrage Vacation
Repeat after me: “I am allowed an outrage vacation.”
Sometimes you gotta just stop talking about it and engaging with it. Sometimes you have to kick back and ignore all the shitty stuff going on because your own mental health is paramount. Maybe that means just not talking about Today’s Problem. Maybe it means taking a social media vacation — a day, a week, whatever you need. Don’t let it pull you apart at the seams. Protect yourself. No need to get some kind of outrage based Internet-specific PTSD. Because again, as I keep asking throughout this post: what’s the value in that?