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How Outrage Culture Works Against You

It turns out, by openly disagreeing with a bad thing, you could actually be encouraging that bad thing. It's confusing.

By Haley Booker-LauridsonPublished 5 years ago 3 min read

People are always mad about something. Like a rollercoaster, the anger at indignity gets the adrenaline pumping, words get heated, and people feel the vindication of being right, or otherwise proving someone else wrong.

Last week, or however long ago it was, someone published an article on some news website about how plus-size mannequins and representations of fat women participating in fitness activities are actively harming and potentially killing real women, or something. This isn’t much different from other fun jabs, like some YouTube person making a video about how fat people are pathetic. Or something.

You’ll notice that I’m not doing my due diligence in recording names, quoting statements, or linking to primary sources. Calling someone whatshername is not very good journalism, you might say.

This is completely on purpose.

With recent media, the goal of a piece is not necessarily to tell truth. The piece does not have to be kind or empathetic to others. It doesn’t have to look at any bit of science, be it sociology on the impact of fatshaming, nor the research on whether or not weight loss significantly improves health. Good media doesn’t always pay.

But outrage does.

The truth is, the two people who wrote and said those things about fat people made a pretty penny doing it. Why? Because people click on it. Any story with controversial ideas is much more likely to get clicks, and fat people are a pretty easy target. We aren’t limited to socioeconomic groups, racial groups, sexualities, ethnicities, genders, etc. Everyone either is a fat person, or knows one, and absolutely everyone has an opinion on a fat person’s body, appearance, health, sex life, etc.

People who hate fat people will read these articles, and watch these videos to reinforce their own confirmation bias. Articles will concern trolls about how fat people can never be healthy (and therefore should not be able to see representations of themselves in exercise gear?), and these people will say, “Ah, how correct these people are. This article, like myself, is very smart and logical.”

But what’s worse is the inevitable reaction toward it. As people with basic compassion and critical thought catch wind of the article, out come the dozens of reactionary thinkpieces, news articles, and articles proving the original article wrong. But two things are almost always consistent:

  1. These articles make sure to note the creator, the title of the piece, where the piece was published, etc.
  2. These articles always, always, always link back to the incriminating piece.

Now, this is good journalism. This is covering the whos, whats, and wheres that are essential to writing a good news article. The problem is that people have learned to hijack that good faith reporting for monetary gain.

The backlinks that the reactionary articles provide skyrocket the original’s SEO, making it more likely to be found organically. It trends on the Internet. Moreover, people reading the reaction will likely click on the link and read the original, either to further condemn or to agree with it. Any publicity is good publicity if you measure success in impressions.

The truth is, these people likely don’t care very much about whether or not they have to see a fat mannequin. However, they do care about a good paycheck, and so does the news publication that displays a story like that. Riled up people are more likely to view, interact with, and share your article with others, and that is exactly what has been happening. So many people were talking about the mannequins, the author of the original article, the next article, everything. It was great publicity to Nike, great publicity to that author, and great publicity to the news publication.

While an article works a little differently—authors are often paid a lump sum—those who post “hot takes” on venues such as YouTube monetarily benefit from every single click and comment that they get. In other words, by wanting to be included in the drama at hand, you are essentially funding people’s cruelty. Even with adblockers on, you still contribute to their view count, which in turn affects the YouTube algorithm helping it be seen by more eyes.

We all love a scandal. We want to be the friend “in the know” for whatever madness has broken out into the world this time. But sometimes, we need to ask ourselves if it’s really worth the amount of time we freely give to bad actors in society. This especially goes for if that person has something to gain from the notoriety.

Just as we need to learn to disengage and hit the block button on trolls on social media, we need to learn to ignore and deplatform the professional trolls, too.


About the Creator

Haley Booker-Lauridson

Haley is a passionate freelance writer who enjoys exploring a multitude of topics, from culture to education.

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    Haley Booker-LauridsonWritten by Haley Booker-Lauridson

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