Twitter and Facebook: Angry by Design

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There’s a good article by Ezra Klein on Vox today about how Twitter is specifically designed to make us angry by presenting, “a distortion built to deepen your attachment to your friends, your resentment of your opponents, and your engagement on the platform.”

This is true of most modern social media:

1. The business model is to get people to pay attention and click.

2. People are more likely to click when they’re in a heightened emotional state.

3. The easiest heightened emotional state to induce at scale is tribal anger.

Therefore:

4. Much of social media is specifically designed to make us angry.

A decade of pervasive agitation has made us brittle in unsurprising ways. The resulting ad revenue is not worth the damage to health, community, and democracy.

There’s a similar discussion in the past couple of days about Apple banning Infowars before Facebook and other companies did. Why was it easier for Apple? Consider this:

Apple makes money by selling expensive phones. People are more likely to buy expensive phones when they’re feeling at least somewhat secure with their lives. Apple does not profit from its users being agitated.

Facebook and Twitter make money when people click on stuff. Agitated people click more stuff. Facebook and Twitter profit from their users being agitated.

Infowars causes a lot of agitation. Bad for Apple business, good for Facebook and Twitter. When a company’s ideals clash with its revenue model, the money usually wins.

Related question for someone good at estimating media revenue:

Does Alex Jones make more money from Infowars content by selling ads and vitamins to people who agree with him, than Facebook and Twitter make from Infowars content when it gets passed around by outraged liberals (who then post other things, click on ads, etc.?)

There might be more money in hating Infowars than in liking it.

I know that Twitter and Facebook did not start out with the goal of dividing and agitating us, and other social products, like Instagram and LinkedIn, have mostly managed to avoid this spiral.

But the unavoidable reality is that many of today’s problems are caused by a lazy business model that’s found equilibrium in scaled and autogenerated anger.

Let’s change that model.

Image credit: Shutterstock

This post has been updated to reflect the full version published on LinkedIn