Social Media Outrage: Some Simple Logic
I’ve been a Facebook social media marketer for some fifteen years. It was simply natural; I’m an event promoter, and social media was the best place to advertise events for a whole, especially if you didn’t have a lot of budget, and you did have a lot of interesting ideas to share. I’ve followed Facebook’s evolution with fascination, partly because it was a large part of my job for a while, partly because I’m fascinated with the evolution of the web.
Let me tell you, when I heard the hashtag #SocialMediaOutrageIndustry, I thought two things:
- That is a perfect description of what’s happening.
- It sounds like a wacky conspiracy theory, even to me.
So I decided to write a very, very brief, simple explanation of how this happened. There’s no need to see a conspiracy here, no need to see this as some cabal of tech elites or sinister forces — this can be simply explained through what we know of Facebook already.
- We know that Facebook wants people to spend as much time on FB as possible, and to be as engaged as possible. This is not a secret to anyone; you can Google it if you’d like, but Facebook itself talks about this when it discusses its advertising, its reach, and how it makes money. Hell, we knew this back when it was trying to get us to play “Farmville”.
- It’s incredibly profitable for Facebook to have things go viral. This is why, despite a decade of changes to Facebook’s algorithm, viral content still rises to the top quite consistently. Viral content gets people excited about Facebook, and keeps us scrolling our feeds. This isn’t even some kind of evil plan; it’s just the recognition that billions of people love cute cats, weird facts, amazing and unusual people, places, and things.
- But one of the most profitable things that can happen on Facebook is outrage. I’m going to stress again: this doesn’t need to include anything sinister, or any weird conspiracies. It’s a visible, observable truth.
Let’s discuss that third point for just a moment more. I’m not asking you to believe anything you can’t verify through your own experiences (though if you want to google it, you can find more than a few articles like “How Facebook’s News Sells Our Fear And Outrage For Profit”.
Put very simply, Facebook is like any other business. The more people who come into its space, the more money it stands to make. The longer they’re around, the more information Facebook gains, the more chances it has to show ads, and the more it can monetize your existence.
Now picture something that causes massive social media outrage. It’s easy to do — since we see it quite literally every day. People who agree with the thing will post it like mad; their like-minded friends will pepper it with likes and loves. People who disagree will ALSO post it — and explain why they disagree. And in the middle, both sides clash. They “yell” online. They call each other names. They get personal. They sic their friends on their opponents. They make separate posts and sub-posts talking about how insane it is that so-and-so is happening.
It’s one of the most powerful ways to get peoples’ attention, get them on the platform, get them active, get them responding, get engagement, build strong emotions, make them want to come back and see what the replies are, make them monitor their notifications.
And all of this gives Facebook more chances to advertise to you. Even if we exclude other, shadier thoughts — like Facebook making money from your personal data — this is an ancient, ancient truth of advertising: the more chances you have to advertise to someone, the more money you can make selling those ads. Especially if you can promise an engaged, involved audience.
And that is exactly what you create when there’s social media outrage.
So let’s assume Facebook does NOT intentionally kick outrage higher into its algorithm — -though it could. Let’s assume Facebook doesn’t exacerbate outrage by increasing its visibility artificially (like, simply deciding to show a given article more often when people post it.) Let’s assume nothing sinister at all, just simple, basic business practices.
It’s very basic marketing principles. It’s not hidden, it’s not concealed, it’s not a conspiracy. The #SocialMediaOutrageIndustry is real because it works. And until we start rejecting the outrage, until we start talking instead of screaming, until we discuss things calmly instead of with our sense of righteousness and fury — it will keep growing, and we’ll keep getting more angry, more anxious, and more unhappy.
Where does that end up?
End outrage industry. Promote conversation. Talk.