Social media’s misleading depiction of negativity creates a false reality that undermines our perception of the world. As social media has become a platform for self-expression and communication, it has merged with our everyday existence and identities. While it provides various opportunities for an exchange of ideas, it also fosters a breeding ground for hostility. But what if the negativity wasn’t actually there? What if comment sections on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook spawn a misleading illusion, fuel negativity and make it seem that we are battling an unseen adversary?
Today, it is not strange to scroll through social media posts where the top comments decry the spitefulness of the comment section. There is a copycat environment where individuals voice their frustration with the negativity that permeates the internet. Comments like “why is everyone so rude in this section?” or”‘y’all need to stop being so mean to [so-and-so]” might fill the entire top half of a comment feed. Yet if you scroll down below these popular constructive comments, you likely won’t find many hateful opinions, and if you do, they won’t have many likes. It’s a paradoxical realm where people feel as if they are fighting a larger amount of negativity that doesn’t even exist.
This phenomenon of battling unpopular opinions expands beyond social media. The echo chamber effect of the internet, where we’re bombarded with news and information that coincides with our beliefs, breeds misleading illusions in the real world. A recent study that monitored eye movements while people read social media content discovered that individuals tend to devote more time reading negative comments, specifically those with an angry tone, than positive comments. When this reader then voices their concern for the negativity they see, it receives popularity or likes, and contributes to the spread of false narratives and reinforcement of cognitive biases.
The irony of battling these rare comments is that they reinforce the negativity that humans are trying to combat. By incessantly constructing the few negative comments we see, we are perpetuating the narrative that negativity is pervasive on the internet and fostering a world where people feel the majority of us are negative. This creates a poisonous cycle where the more we see negativity in traditional media, the more tangible it becomes in our minds, and the more we feel we have to fight it in the world and when we log onto social media. Some argue that the negativity we see from individuals on social media is genuine, and we are just becoming more aware of our human nature due to its relevance in our lives, reminding us that our negativity has always been there, but social media is now amplifying our voices. This might be the case, except that it is a narrow and narcissistic view of our own species. It is more impactful on our world if our first instinct is that others are inherently good, rather than this facade created by algorithms and double-taps of popularity.
So what can be done about this? We should first acknowledge that social media is a flawed representation of our reality. People should be cognizant of our rapid reliance on social media and make an effort to seek out diverse perspectives and news sources. Unlike large media corporations, social media platforms give the power to humans to foster positivity and mitigate negativity, even if the algorithm promotes the opposite. By fighting the ghosts of public opinion, we are only accelerating hate and exposing our weaknesses to the system. If we take control of what we consume and understand the psychology behind it, we have the chance to make the digital world a much brighter place — one that feels more like our own reality.
Brandon Desvernine is a senior majoring in business administration.