Who do you blame? Four perspectives on our role in social media anger. Which do you choose?
Twitter Age, or twitter-rage? In the social media world, there is always someone else to blame. Yale University offers research that supports claims that we are being manipulated. Links below.
Here are four perspectives, each with differing levels of psychological distance and blame attached. I am persuaded to take action, and offer some wider personal insight at the end.
One: Blame them, not me
A nice safe distant other to blame. We each have good reason to be angry. To be offended. The easy blame is directed at the politics of our day. A political class about as contemptable as they have ever been. Entitled others. Uncaring others. Others defending us or threatening us, and our way of life.
Two: We are just hard-wired that way
Blame our biology. Remove all psychological distance but claim no part in it at all. The harder truth is that we really are all built this way. These processes are at work beyond our conscious perception. In our brain, lurking deep below the surface of the social diplomacy contained within the pre-frontal cortex, is an emotional limbic system raging to get out. Our self-control makes us socially capable. But we are not always in control. Worse still, we seek social acceptance of our group – meaning chemical reward is available when our own goad us, will us on, or applaud. We like to be liked. Even if it means we must pretend we are right, or in control.
Three: We are being manipulated to be this way
This is the more sinister place to let blame sit. Acknowledging our part in destructive discussion, but not having to take the blame. At these moments even the right are wrong. This neuroscience is known and is being exploited. Advertising is built on propaganda lessons from WWII. Politics lives here. Peer pressure. Social norms. We are easily manipulated to behave a certain way. Most alarming however is 21st century psychological manipulation. We are engaging via formats that reward the polarised debate. That is what this study by Yale university concluded in August 2021 (detailed version see here). It would seem social harm has become an acceptable norm.
“It’s not my fault!”
All three perspectives above are correct. Conveniently, none of them require us to act. It’s just the way things are. In all cases, this is very much the playground view. The “it’s not my fault” response of every teenager. Our physiology backs this up. Our pre-frontal cortex does not completely develop until our mid-twenties, meaning our more ancient but primitive impulses act more strongly in our youth. This impulsiveness is being targeted and exploited.
As we allow ourselves to be directed towards these older neural pathways, it is this playground I think we all return to. Those developmental years, where everyone and everything else is available to blame.
Four: Control. No blame. Simply reclaim.
Which leaves the fourth perspective. Which is psychologically close-by, and for me to own. If all of these perspectives are true I can blame them all. Or I can accept my part in this playground. Owning my output from the games being played.
Taking back control
My simple choice. Twitter no more.
A grown-ups choice?
A few more personal observations which have helped me move forward. Maybe they can help others relate.
My return to Twitter served one positive step. I was suddenly back in the playground. The pre-teen boy. Seeking validation but getting rejection. Standing my ground anyway. Thinking myself smart, and ensuring my own isolation by that very fact – for me weaponised empathy and knowledge often had that effect. These are core traits for me. Wanting to know more about people and their ideas. It developed into consensus building, and problem solving. But not until well past school. I had to grow up a little first, and I buried much along the way.
The fact is that well into my teens these traits became ever more my prison. A prison I escaped only once I learnt humour, and how to make others feel comfortable and laugh. Weaponised empathy still, but in a more acceptable form. I can own that. More than I can own the playground that I so wished to be validated in, and never was.
Twitter is all those playgrounds all over again. Everywhere is psychologically a little less stable. Popular kids and wannabes, all trading on how to get likes. Everyone addicted to that next affirmation. Compelled to seek out their kin. Rewarded for not being kind. Just being seen. Being authentic but against these ideals. Yale now confirming we are being neurologically encouraged to act in more childish ways. I wonder how many others see an uncomfortable version of themselves this way?
So for me at least, that is the perspective I choose. Because it is the perspective I can own. And a means to consider environments where I am becoming better, not revisiting where I have been.
Visibility | Behaviour | Trust
I can apply a new heuristic to this old reality. As a perspective that I can actively manage, now that I have seen it with fresh eyes. I have visibility of a side of my discourse I do not like. A little lost trust in my intent and motivations. Time therefore to make a behavioural change. My change, rather than an attempt to change others I blame for being part of what is not my truth.
I rely heavily on social media whilst I remain locked-down. Perhaps too much. It is time to break free some of those chains. Politics no more. Twitter is shown the door. LinkedIn, my only outlet beyond this blog, is also being reigned in. I suspect my blog will become more regular as a result.
Let’s see if my temperament – notwithstanding living alongside bad politics -therein improves.
To be continued…but I will tweet no more